Can Psychedelics Treat Alzheimer’s Disease?

Researchers argue that the microbiological action of psychedelics may help fight brain-based symptoms in early Alzheimer’s patients.

Evan Lewis-Healey

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Neuronal axons from an Alzheimer’s mouse, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

An aging population is a double-edged sword. On one hand, people living longer demonstrates that modern medicine is working and people are generally living healthier lives. On the other hand, an aging population means that conditions like Alzheimer’s disease are more widespread than ever before.

But the psychedelic movement offers renewed hope.

A recent paper published in Current Topics in Behavioural Sciences highlights that psychedelics may be used as a tool to fight this degenerative brain disease, and paves the way for a new line of research, where psychedelics can be used to treat specific symptoms of this type of dementia.

In the United States, more than five million adults are living with Alzheimer’s, with the figure expected to triple in the next 30 years. This is a rapid cause for concern — there is, of course, no magic bullet for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.

However, Dr. Albert Garcia-Romeu and his colleagues from Johns Hopkins University, argue that psychedelics could soften the blow of this horrendous condition on the individual and society.

Alzheimer’s Disease in the Brain and Mind

Within the paper, the author’s highlight several potential brain-based causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Normal aging is associated with neurodegeneration — the decay of brain cells. However, Alzheimer’s patients display this to a pathological extent. For these patients, the widespread decay of neurons in important brain areas, like the hippocampus, can lead to clinical problems in learning and memory.

Alzheimer’s has also been linked to brain inflammation. Why inflammation occurs in the brain is not so clear, but the effects of inflammation are as dire as neurodegeneration. Inflammation will impact general brain functioning, which can worsen the difficulties in learning and memory.

These two brain-based impacts can also have a significant impact on mental health. According to the authors, more than 40% of…

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Evan Lewis-Healey

PhD candidate at Cambridge University. Studying the cognitive neuroscience of altered states of consciousness.