One of the more mysterious and incurable diseases facing doctors looking for a treatment or a preventative drug is Alzheimer’s disease (AD), named after the German physician who identified the disease in the early part of the last century.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are currently 36 million people with dementia in the world, but as many as 28 million of those living with dementia worldwide do not have a diagnosis.
The number of people living with dementia worldwide is expected to double every 20 years. By 2050 it is projected there will be 115 million people with dementia worldwide, 71 percent of whom will live in developing countries.
Medical researchers are trying everything to find a way to stop or slow down the disease, suggesting such therapeutic ideas in clinical trials as using elderberry juice supplements, or transplanting fecal bacteria to help with cognitive improvement.
Now researchers are discovering that psilocybin (and LSD) may finally offer a pathway to treating AD, with psychedelic trials adding volumes of new data into possible treatments of what is known about AD.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurological disorder that affects language, memory, thinking, planning, and behavior. There are a number of risk factors associated with developing AD but the exact cause remains unknown. The predominant theory is that it is caused by the excessive build-up of amyloid protein (an abnormal protein produced in the bone marrow) which leads to cell death, brain atrophy, and cognitive and functional decline.
This theory was been put under more scrutiny as a result of the failures of amyloid treatments trials by Eli Lilly in 2016. Nevertheless, in June 2021, the FDA decided to provide accelerated approval of Aduhelm, a controversial new drug designed to clear amyloid plaques from the brain to treat mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia due to AD.
Researchers so far have discovered that the hippocampus, a brain area critical for learning and memory, is especially vulnerable to damage at the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Emerging evidence shows that altered neurogenesis (a process by which new neurons are formed in the brain) in the adult hippocampus represents an early critical event in the course of AD. Dysfunctional neurogenesis resulting from early disease manifestations may in turn exacerbate neuronal vulnerability to AD and contribute to memory impairment.
In addition, all known genetic and environmental risk factors for AD are associated with increased inflammation, suggesting that reducing inflammation could be a target for preventing AD. In fact, the prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is associated with a reduction in the AD risk.
Here’s where psychedelics could have a role in treating AD.
They have been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory properties and may represent a unique anti-inflammatory that can be targeted to brain tissue.
The potential for psychedelic compounds to influence and enhance functional neuronal connectivity, stimulate neurogenesis, restore brain plasticity, reduce inflammation and enhance cognition provides a new therapeutic tool and compelling argument for further investigation of the potential for psychedelics as a disease-modifying compound, according to researchers.
But there is still a lot of work to be done in strategic dosing amounts, length of treatment, and differences in using psilocybin and LSD to treat AD.
Given the nature of this incurable disease, the global spread, and the glimmers of hope already seen in some psilocybin studies, more psychedelic companies are focusing on AD.
For example, in December, Ixtlan Bioscience, based in Tel Aviv, Israel, filed a provisional patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for their AD treatment kit designed to “slow down the progression” of AD.
The kit contains capsules of micro-doses of psilocybin, plus a way for a patient to measure the effectiveness of the microdose and a website for monitoring patient response.
Also in December, Vancouver-based Mynd Life Sciences Inc.(OTC: MYNDF), a medical biotech drug research and development company focused on psilocybin drug development, demonstrated its interest in AD treatment. The company purchased all the intellectual rights to treat AD from Cava Healthcare in Surrey, British Columbia, which includes all future worldwide rights for the use of psychedelics to treat Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
More research firepower is coming from Johns Hopkins Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, where there are 14 research studies and clinical trials into various AD issues underway right now.
At the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, psychiatry researcher Albert Garcia-Romeu will lead two clinical studies, one testing psilocybin in the treatment of anxiety and depression in people with Alzheimer’s disease, in partnership with yet another academic resource at the hospital, the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center. “Human clinical research suggests a possible role for high-dose psychedelic administration in the symptomatic treatment of depressed mood and anxiety in early-stage AD,” Garcia-Romeu wrote in November, 2021 about his research.
Garcia-Romeu also called for more research. “Preclinical data indicate a potential for low- or high-dose psychedelic treatment regimens to slow or reverse brain atrophy, enhance cognitive function, and slow progression of AD.”
In January 2022, Garcia-Romeu sent a news alert asking for volunteers to participate in a study about psilocybin being used as a potential aid for depression in early AD.
An article in Frontiers in Synaptic Neuroscience magazine summed up the status of Alzheimer’s and psychedelics today: “Despite anecdotal evidence of widespread recreational use of micro-dosing for cognitive enhancement, robust scientific studies of the cognitive effects of micro-dosing in humans have so far been limited to acute changes in very small studies in cognitively normal individuals with no reports of persistent cognitive changes, either positive or negative, at psychedelic doses. Studies looking at both micro-dosing and psychedelic doses, longer-term, in cognitively impaired individuals are lacking and urgently needed.”