The more I learn about psychedelic drugs, the more I realize how much work lies ahead for researchers who are studying these medicines.
Last week, I watched How to Change Your Mind, the four-hour Netflix adaptation of Michael Pollan’s book, which explores the history and healing potential of four drugs: LSD, psilocybin (the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”), MDMA and mescaline. It’s excellent! Aside from Pollan’s book, which goes into the history, culture and psychopharmacology of psychedelics with greater depth, there’s no better way to understand what’s often called the psychedelic renaissance.
But, through no fault of Netflix, Pollan or Alec Gibney, the filmmaker, the series is out of date. Except for the episode on MDMA, which chronicles the long-running effort by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and its indomitable founder Rick Doblin to win government approval for MDMA-assisted therapy as a treatment for PTSD, Pollan has little to say about the startups and public companies that are trying to turn psychedelic drugs into FDA-approved medicines. By some estimates, hundreds of companies working with psychedelics.
One of the more interesting startups is Eleusis, which was founded in 2013 by a former Goldman Sachs banker named Shlomi Raz. Guiding much of its research is Charles Nichols, a professor of pharmacology at the LSU medical school. (His father David Nichols is a legend in the psychedelic world.) Like other startups, Eleusis believes that psychedelics — in its case, a newly-created drug similar to psilocybin – can alleviate the suffering caused by mental illness. But what sets the company apart is its extensive research into the anti-inflammatory properties of psychedelics. While indigenous people historically have used psychedelic drugs to treat physical ailments, there has been very little contemporary research exploring whether and how psychedelics can reduce inflammation, which is associated with such diseases as arthritis, asthma, Alzheimers disease, retinal disease and heart disease. This is virgin territory for research.
You can learn more in my latest story for Lucid News, which ran under the headline: Can Psychedelics Treat Inflammation and Eye Disease. Eleusis Thinks So. Its research is very early stage, but the possibilities are mind-boggling.