Biotech Firm Using Psychedelics To Treat Alcohol Addiction
A Canadian drink made headlines in 2018 when it was touted as being able to pack a similar buzz to booze, despite not containing even a single drop of alcohol.
Users later reported that they indeed felt no desire to consume alcohol after ingesting it, experienced no ill effects, and had no urge to continue using it.
Tens of thousands of bottles were reportedly sold before the country’s health department halted its distribution, because it emerged that it was using a synthetic compound similar to amphetamine.
That company has since shut down, but the idea of using this specific psychedelic to treat alcoholism was adopted by Israeli biotech firm Clearmind Medicine, which now owns the global patents for the synthetic compound MEAI (5-methoxy-2-aminoindane).
And, after years of developing the compound to fit pharmaceutical standards, Clearmind just this week got the green light to use its novel drug in clinical trials to treat people with alcohol use disorder.
Participants will take MEAI-based oral capsules once a day for 10 consecutive days, and report their drinking patterns and craving for alcohol during this trial period.
“We’re very optimistic about the potential of MEAI to be an effective and safe treatment for alcoholism,” says Dr. Adi Zuloff-Shani, CEO of Clearmind Medicine.
“In principle, we are trying to solve addiction problems. It can be anything between drug abuse, alcohol abuse, obesity and more. The first indication we’re pursuing is alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism.”
“We are the only company that is developing this compound. There’s a lot of excitement and noise around psychedelics right now, but most companies are investigating the same compounds, meaning psilocybin and LSD and MDMA, etcetera.”
Zuloff-Shani admits that they don’t fully understand the mechanism that causes a person to feel a buzz while also removing the desire to ingest alcohol. All they know, she says, is that it somehow affects serotonin and dopamine receptors, the hormones that play a role in regulating mood and emotion, as well as other neurotransmitters.
“You can just enjoy the sociable feeling that you get when you consume alcohol, but without all the adverse events associated with alcohol drinking,” she says.
In experiments using animal models, the treatment demonstrated the same results. The animals that were trained to like alcohol and were treated with the MEAI-based drug saw an immediate and significant reduction in alcohol consumption.
“We still offered them the two bottles. They could choose between water and alcohol, and we saw that in the MEAI group, they immediately did not choose alcohol over water.” With the animals that were not treated with the drug, she says this wasn’t the case.
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“This supports the information received in the human testimonials,” says Zuloff-Shani.
Psychedelics have been used to treat addictions in the past, but she believes that MEAI is the best among them for two reasons.
Firstly, most psychedelic treatments are administered alongside psychotherapy, which makes the process complicated, expensive, and inaccessible to many.
“This is because other psychedelics are very potent, they’re hallucinogens, they need to be taken under the specific guidance of a psychiatrist,” she explains.
“MEAI is only considered to be a psychedelic because it gives you the sensation of drinking alcohol.
“We developed it to be something that people could take by themselves in their own privacy, and they won’t need psychotherapy, per se, for receiving the treatment. It will be more affordable.”
Secondly, she says that the treatment is the best one that can be offered to an alcoholic – because it allows you to experience the effects of alcohol while still abstaining from it.
“You don’t need to stop enjoying this feeling that you get from alcohol. You just don’t need to consume alcohol in order to get this feeling.”
Since 1950, only three treatments for alcoholism have been approved by the FDA. The most recent and most popular one, Vivitrol, is very expensive, and comes in the form of a monthly injection. Expense aside, the main problem is that it only has an efficacy of 30 percent.
“I really, really believe that we can offer something that is much more efficacious, and less expensive than Vivitrol, the treatment that leads the entire market,” says Zuloff-Shani, who has more than 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry.
The trial will take place at Israel’s largest hospital, Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. Clearmind aims to conduct additional trials in the US in the coming months.