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Psychedelics and Autism: A New Frontier in Mental Health Research

Updated: Sep 22, 2023


Autism and psychedelics

Psychedelics, historically known for their countercultural associations, have witnessed a renaissance in recent years due to a growing body of scientific evidence suggesting their therapeutic potential. One of the conditions under investigation for psychedelic-assisted therapy is autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social communication difficulties and repetitive behaviors.


Understanding Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a multifaceted and diverse condition. Each individual with autism is unique, but common challenges revolve around social interactions, communication, and certain repetitive behaviors. The precise cause of autism remains unknown, but genetic factors play a significant role.


The Connection Between Psychedelics and Autism

Recent research has opened the door to understanding how psychedelics may assist in alleviating symptoms of autism. A key figure in this field is Dr. Gül Dölen, who shed light on this topic during a Tim Ferris podcast. According to Dr. Dölen, autism may be associated with an imbalance at a specific receptor. This imbalance is thought to be related to a "social critical period" during development. If this period passes and the imbalance isn't corrected, individuals with autism may remain "socially blind." Essentially, they may lack the intuitive grasp of social cues that neurotypical individuals develop during their formative years.


The fascinating insight Dr. Dölen brings to the table is the idea that combining targeted mGluR therapy (to correct the receptor imbalance) with psychedelics might help. By using psychedelics to reopen the brain's receptivity to social learning, individuals with autism might get a chance to learn and grasp social interactions in ways similar to their neurotypical peers.


Ketamine's Role

Ketamine, often considered separately from traditional psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin, has been making waves in mental health research. While it's renowned for its rapid antidepressant effects, there's growing interest in its potential for autism. Preliminary research suggests that ketamine may help in enhancing social behavior and improving symptoms associated with autism. The way ketamine functions in the brain, particularly its action on the NMDA receptors, could make it a valuable asset in addressing the social challenges faced by those with autism.


These Tim Ferriss Podcast interviews with Dr. Dölen are very informative.





Conclusion

As the landscape of mental health research continues to evolve, the potential therapeutic use of psychedelics for autism remains a captivating and promising. Make sure you subscribe and check back often for the latest discoveries on psychedelics and their therapeutic use.


Citing Resources and Studies

  1. A Single Dose of Psilocybin Enhances Creative Thinking and Empathy Up to 7 Days After Use: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Prochazkova, L., et al. (2018). Psychedelics might help in enhancing social cognition, which could be beneficial for individuals with autism.

  2. Safety and efficacy of repeated-dose intravenous ketamine for treatment-resistant depression. Murrough, J. W., et al. (2013). This study underscores ketamine's potential in treating various mental health disorders, paving the way for exploring its efficacy in autism.

  3. The therapeutic potential of the endocannabinoid system for the development of a novel class of antidepressants. Hill, M. N., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2009). While this research doesn't directly address autism, it highlights the broader spectrum of brain systems that could be targeted for therapeutic purposes, much like the mGluR receptors Dr. Dölen mentioned.

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