Harnessing the Therapeutic Potential of Muscimol
The use of psychoactive compounds derived from fungi, such as psilocybin, is emerging as a promising tool to treat a range of mental and physical health issues. Psyched Wellness, a Canadian life sciences company working to identify compounds that are not in the mainstream of psychedelics, has successfully distilled and purified an alternative compound with psychoactive properties. Derived from the iconic Amanita muscaria, or fly agaric mushroom, muscimol has been shown to treat stress and anxiety, ease muscular pain and promote restorative sleep.
Technology Networks recently spoke with Jeff Stevens, Psyched Wellness’s CEO, to learn more about muscimol, its therapeutic potential and how it compares to other psychedelics such as psilocybin. In this interview, Jeff also explores the growth of the psychedelics industry and what the future could hold for the sector.
Anna MacDonald (AM): What factors are responsible for the growth of the psychedelics industry?
Jeff Stevens (JS): Over the past 10 years, we have seen a lot of research focusing on the potential benefits of various psychedelic compounds as medicines. With research comes the need for capital and with that, we often see companies come to the capital markets to obtain the required funding. When these events happen, you see a pickup in mainstream media covering the sector as media follows the money. We have also seen some big names in finance backing companies early on (Peter Theil, Kevin O’Leary, Terry Booth, Bruce Linton etc.), when those types of investors get involved in companies it helps validate and attract additional interest. The sector is very interesting as you have some incredible management teams and board members working together to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of the compounds and initiating clinical trials with the goal of identifying new novel treatments for some very serious mental and physical health issues. Obviously, mental health is the biggest focus as many of these compounds show early positive indications, whether it be for PTSD, TBI, addiction etc. COVID-19 has played a big role in increasing the prevalence of depression and mental disorders globally, this has added to the interest in identifying psychedelic compounds as tools to treat these conditions. The pharmaceutical industry has not had a major breakthrough drug to assist with these mental health issues for years, especially any without addictive qualities. Consumers in general are looking for natural or naturally derived alternatives to opioids so this has all come together to be the perfect storm.
AM: Can you tell us more about muscimol and how it compares to other psychedelics such as psilocybin and psilocin? Why has muscimol so far been largely unstudied compared to other psychedelics? Does it present any specific challenges in terms of extraction, regulation or administration?
JS: Muscimol is one of the main psychoactive compounds found in the Amanita muscaria mushroom along with ibotenic acid and muscarine. Although it does have psychoactive properties, the effect is very different from psilocybin or psilocin. It reacts with the GABAA receptor and when ingested, it can provide feelings of euphoria and tranquility, an altered sense of hearing and taste, changes to sensory perception and vivid dreams. If it is not processed properly, where the ibotenic acid is not converted to muscimol, it can provide quite a nasty experience including sweating, nausea, loss of balance and involuntary bodily movements.
We believe the reason muscimol has not been studied to a large degree is because it has been mislabeled as poisonous and as such was overlooked. As a result, there’s not been a lot of scientific studies conducted on muscimol so groups like Psyched Wellness need to start from the ground up, making it more time consuming and more expensive.
Amanita muscaria are considered food and are principally regulated under the Federal Drug Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act in Canada and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and The Nutrition Labelling and Education Act in the USA. As a result, the challenges that other compounds face with extraction, regulation and or administration are not a factor.
AM: Could you tell us about muscimol’s mode of action on the brain?
JS: I have a great team of scientists that would do a far better job explaining muscimol’s mode of action on the brain. What I can share is that as an agonist to GABAA receptors, we believe muscimol could show positive indications for various mental and physical health issues, including sleep, insomnia, addiction and pain. Our initial product will be a tincture designed to provide users with a calming and relaxing effect.
AM: What are the most promising applications for muscimol?
JS: Professor David Nutt is one of our board members and he commissioned some of his students to collect approximately 3,200 scientific papers dealing with muscimol, GABAA receptors, Amanita muscaria, ibotenic acid etc. with the goal of creating a report that identified the best potential applications for muscimol. Our scientific advisory committee has identified a few topics that we find very interesting for additional studies and we look forward to sharing them with the public when the time is right. Suffice to say, we are very excited to do more work in these areas. Unfortunately, I cannot go into greater detail as we do not want to tip our hat at this time.
AM: Where do you see the future of the public psychedelics market headed?
JS: We are just beginning to see some very interesting results come from the various clinical trials and we are also seeing companies like Psyched Wellness identify compounds that are not in the mainstream of psychedelics and do work on those as well. What impresses me the most is the fact that the psychedelic sector has attracted such big names investing in companies early on, it has already attracted an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) to allow retail investors the opportunity to get exposure in the sector via a basket approach and continues to garner mainstream media attention that will help reduce and remove the stigma surrounding psychedelics. All of this moves towards helping to change legislation and make these compounds more readily available for treatments.
Jeff Stevens was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Science Writer for Technology Networks.