The U.S. government has taken a significant step toward tackling the mounting national substance addiction crisis by partnering with neuroscience company Delix Therapeutics to study a non-hallucinogenic version of the psychedelic drug ibogaine.
Collaboration with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) follows recent grim data published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that saw national overdose deaths exceeding 100,000 for the first time over a 12 month period.
Less Adverse Effects
While natural ibogaine is a psychoactive compound found in the iboga shrub native to Africa, the analog created by Delix, called DLX-7, is both non-psychoactive and non-toxic.
Treatments using conventional iboga can be emotionally grueling with intense hallucinations that can last for eight to nine hours. Therapies can also be physically taxing and bring on cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats) for some users.
Because compelling preliminary data shows the potential efficacy of ibogaine in treating substance addiction disorders, Delix chief innovation officer David E. Olson developed a non-psychoactive analog that would very likely appeal to those not interested in taking one mind-altering drug to get off of another.
“We started with the ibogaine structure because of its fantastic efficacy, and we whittled it down to its essential feature,” Olson told Forbes, describing his modification of the substance that removes the psychedelic-inducing aspects of the drug. “By cutting it down, we got rid of these undesired side effects.”
Ibogaine Gains Traction
Other companies interested in the use of traditional, naturally derived ibogaine for substance abuse include DemeRx, a subsidiary of Peter Thiel-backed Atai Life Sciences ATAI, and Novamind Inc. NVMDF.
The latter is a North American mental health company specializing in psychedelic medicine that is making inroads into Latin American markets. Novamind recently announced a strategic investment with Uruguay-based Bienstar Wellness Corp to assist in the expansion of Latin America's first network of psychedelic therapy health clinics.
Bienstar’s chief medical officer, Dr. Bruno Rasmussen, is a pioneering psychedelic specialist who has used ibogaine in Brazil for substance use disorders since 1994. It’s likely that Novamind will tap Rasmussen’s extensive experience utilizing the drug to help people with drug use disorders.
Government Backing Gives Ibogaine Gravitas
While the use of ibogaine to treat addiction disorders is a decades-long practice, the U.S. government’s support of the compound is a striking development that signals a leap forward as a treatment.
Ibogaine in its natural form is considered a Schedule I drug in the U.S., defined as having “no accepted medical use.” However, its expanding application as a therapy for addiction, both in legal and illegal markets, tells a different story.
"Preclinical results published in ‘Nature’ last year demonstrated that DLX-7 reduces alcohol- and heroin-seeking behavior,” said Olson. “We are thrilled to collaborate with NIDA to further evaluate its potential as a novel treatment for addiction across a variety of substances and models.”
NIDA’s ongoing interest and backing of the therapeutic potential for drugs like ibogaine, as well as a host of others both psychoactive and not, is a positive sign for the acceptance of these once-taboo treatments. In fact, both NIDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration recently signaled their willingness to align with a White House proposal that seeks to streamline the process of researching such drugs.
Delix’s work in the study of a non-hallucinogenic version of ibogaine is likely to bring awareness to the public and elucidate the essential qualities inherent to other psychedelic substances and their acceptance as valid, useful medical treatments.
Initial data from NIDA's studies on Delix's DLX-7 is expected to be available in early 2022.
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