As the frequency of concussions, including traumatic brain injuries (TBI), grows, so does interest in finding an effective way to treat the condition – and psychedelics may be part of that answer.
The previous routine dismissal of concussions as short-lived and relatively trivial events has been replaced by claims that there is now a concussion crisis.
Quantifying the Issue
Doctors are seeing more concussion patients coming in for treatment every day from all walks of life.
One 2020 study found that between 2008 and 2016, 1.3 million people were diagnosed with a concussion, 10 million deaths and/or hospitalizations annually are directly attributable to TBI, and an estimated 57 million people have experienced TBIs.
A concussion can happen anywhere, anytime – falls, motor vehicle accidents, and assaults. Children, young adults, and older adults are at especially high risk for concussions and may take longer to recover, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
A concussion can cause a litany of problems, for example, headache, vomiting, nausea, trouble thinking normally, memory problems, dizziness, and vision problems. Researchers have also discovered that some people may be at risk for neurobiological depression and/or anxiety following a concussion.
The U.S. Department of Defense and the Veterans Affairs are both keenly interested in anything that can help with the thousands of TBIs they treat from injured warfighters.
The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center reported nearly 414,000 TBIs among U.S. service members worldwide between 2000 and late 2019. More than 185,000 veterans who use the Veterans Administration for their health care have been diagnosed with at least one TBI.
VA doctors are still hesitant about working with psychedelics, since they are government agencies, and most psychedelics are federally illegal Schedule 1 drugs. But they are beginning to see the light.
Research Pool Grows
At least five trials are underway or planned by a handful of government clinicians who see the potential in using psychedelic experiences combined with psychotherapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and other conditions endemic among veterans of recent wars, according to an article in The New York Times.
Another veteran-related psychedelics-and-concussion project is underway by Heroic Hearts, a psychedelics-for-veterans support and advocacy group, working with the Imperial College of London to study the effects of psilocybin on head trauma and the psychological effects on military veterans. The project started in late 2021, using seven-day retreats in the Netherlands and Jamaica.
The need for help with concussions is accelerating discoveries with psychedelics. Researchers at Yale University are working on a clinical trial to investigate the effects of oral psilocybin in post-traumatic headache. Their 24 participants will be randomized to receive placebo, low-dose psilocybin, or high-dose psilocybin on two separate test days approximately 14 days apart. They will maintain a headache diary prior to, during, and after the treatments to document headache frequency and intensity, plus other symptoms. Blood samples will be drawn at various timepoints to measure levels of inflammatory peptides. The trial is expected to wrap up in July 2023.
And it’s not just psychedelics that offer hope for treating concussions. The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine researchers received $1.624 million in funding from Tassili Life Sciences, a company focused on psychedelic treatment research that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Braxia Scientific Company, to study whether using a pill form of cannabidiol and the psychedelic drug psilocybin effectively treats and possibly prevents symptoms of two conditions that commonly occur together: mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
More athletes are coming out with their own stories of treating their brain injuries with psychedelics, such as NHL player Daniel Carcillo, NFL player Kerry Rhodes, and UFC fighter Ian McCall.
Potential Treatment Options
Ibogaine is a recent addition to this list. It is one of the psychoactive indole alkaloids found in the West African shrub, tabernanthe iboga. It has anti-addictive properties and helps reduce dependence on a variety of abused drugs, including opiates, cocaine, alcohol, and nicotine.
Mind Cure Health (CSE: MCUR) (OTCQB: MCURF) (FRA: 6MH), a company developing technology to advance psychedelic-related treatments, announced that their bioinformatics platform, PsyCollage, has identified opportunities for ibogaine to support neuroregenerative pathways that could be pivotal in treating neuropathic pain and brain trauma.
Ibogaine is thought to repair and reset the brain’s reward system. It may stimulate the growth of new dopamine neurons, which further supports its therapeutic potential for neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Revive Therapeutics in March, 2021, announced positive results of a pre-clinical study evaluating the efficacy of psilocybin in the treatment of mild traumatic brain injury in a rodent model of TBI. The study was conducted at the National Health Research Institutes.
Then in September, 2021, Lobe Sciences announced interim data from its preclinical research studies in established rodent models of mild traumatic brain injury/concussion and post-traumatic stress disorder using a combination of psilocybin plus N-Acetyl cysteine, a drug used by the body to build antioxidants.
But as with so many mental health and wellness research with psychedelics, there is much more to be done.
Data Bridge Market Research reports that the TBI treatment market will grow to $201.1 billion by 2029.
“Psychedelics may play a future role in treatment of brain injury through a variety of mechanisms,” another study concluded. “Though these are a novel class of drugs deserving close study, more data are necessary to prove their efficacy for treatment of brain injury, as historically many compounds have seemed promising in vitro, including likely hundreds of compounds thought to facilitate neuroplasticity and neuroprotection, but have not borne out in clinical trials.”