Is Nanotechnology The New Path For Psychedelics?

Part of the work of psychedelics therapies is about finding new ways of delivering the psychedelic substance precisely where it is needed inside the human brain. And that has proved to be tricky.

It’s about getting around the blood-brain barrier in place to protect the brain from any substance in the blood that can damage the brain. Blood-brain barrier and blood-cerebrospinal fluid barrier guard the central nervous system from harmful substances and pose the major challenges in delivering drugs, according to one study

Many bioactive molecules from natural sources have a high molecular size, resulting in a poor ability to cross the lipid membrane (a form of a barrier around all cells) and poor absorption capacity, ultimately leading to reduced bioavailability and efficacy. Thus the need for super tiny molecules within some sort of delivery carrier that can increase the bioavailability of a pharmaceutical. 

Enter nanomedicine. Nanomedicine refers to the applications of nanotechnology for the treatment, diagnosis, monitoring, and control of biological systems. Nanomedicines have been implicated to address the problems related to the treatment of the neurological disorder, and have a cutting edge over the conventional central nervous system therapy, according to a study

It is the branch of medicine that utilizes the science of nanotechnology in the treatment of various diseases using nanoscale materials, such as biocompatible nanoparticles and nanorobots for various applications. 

Nanotechnology, which refers to the manipulation of matter at an atomic or molecular level, has been discussed as a new platform for treating neurological disorders. Molecules can be nanoengineered to carry out multiple specific functions such as crossing the blood/brain barrier, targeting specific cell or signaling pathways, acting as a vehicle for gene delivery, and supporting nerve regeneration and cell survival.

Lipid-based nanocarriers have been shown to enhance the oral bioavailability of certain drugs in animals, including anticancer drugs, antiviral drugs, cardiovascular drugs, and central nervous system drugs. But there is still work to be done on their design—they must overcome issues inside the human stomach, such as gastric acid, to reach their target.

Nanotechnology offers multiple benefits in treating chronic human diseases by site-specific and target-oriented delivery of precise medicines for treating such mental health issues as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s—therapies that need a better way to overcome the blood/brain barrier to be effective. 

There has been progress on this methodology of drug delivery. The FDA has approved 41 nanoformulated drugs for the treatment of a variety of diseases, including multiple sclerosis, prostate cancer, hemophilia, breast cancer, and hepatitis, among others. 

And there is a wide range of pharmaceutical nanocarriers including liposomes, solid-liquid nanoparticles (SNP), micelles, dendrimers, and some others that have been developed.

But there is much more to know about nanoparticles and how they work inside the human brain. For example, there are concerns about the toxicity of the delivery method. Researchers are optimistic, concluding that the future use of nanotechnology in central nervous system drug delivery—the goal of psychedelics—“is very promising” and “opens new avenues in the treatment of neurological disorders as it has the potential to fundamentally revolutionize the way we approach central nervous system-targeted therapeutics due to their ability to nanoengineer the drug/carriers to cross the blood-brain barrier, diffuse within the brain tissue, target specific cell or signaling systems for delivering therapeutics.”

Nanotechnology is already being used in cancer drug therapies. In fact, the first nanotechnology-based cancer drugs have passed regulatory scrutiny and are already on the market including Doxil and Abraxane.

Some psychedelics companies are beginning to explore the promise of nanotechnology. For example, Toronto-based NanoPsy, Inc., is reportedly leveraging nanotechnology to effectively improve psychedelic drug efficacy. Their patented nanotechnology, in combination with their targeted delivery and controlled dosing technology methods, allows for an increase in solubility/absorption of these psychedelic molecules.

There will likely be more applications to come. Nanotechnology is “a multidisciplinary scientific field undergoing explosive development,” a study concluded.

Dave Hodes

David Hodes is a business journalist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has contributed feature articles to several cannabis and psychedelics publications, as well as general business/lifestyle publications, on a variety of topics. Hodes was selected as 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access. He is a member of the National Press Club, and the deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.


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