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'Mystical' psychedelic compound found in normal brains



 rat brain
Cerebellum of CIVM postnatal rat brain atlas. Credit: Neurolex
            

In the past few years, thrill-seekers from Hollywood, Silicon Valley and beyond have been traveling to South America to take part in the so-called Ayahuasca retreats. Their goal: to participate in a brewed concoction made from a vine plant Banisteriopsis caapi, traditionally used by indigenous people for sacred religious ceremonies. Drinkers of Ayahuasca experience short-term hallucinogenic episodes many describe as life-changing.
                                                

The active ingredient responsible for these psychedelic visions is a molecule called dimethyltryptamine (DMT). For the first time, a team led by Michigan Medicine has discovered the widespread presence of naturally occurring DMT in the mammalian brain.

"DMT is not only in plants, but also can be detected in mammals," says Jimo Borjigin, Ph.D. , of the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology. Her interest in DMT came about accidentally. Before studying psychedelic, her research focused on melatonin production in the pineal gland.

In the seventeenth century, philosopher Rene Descartes claimed that the pineal gland, a small pinecone-shaped organ located deep in the center of the brain, was the seat of the soul. Since its discovery, the pineal gland, known by some as the third eye, has been shrouded in mystery. Scientists now know that it controls the production of melatonin, playing an important role in modulating circadian rhythms or body's internal clock. However, an online search for a lessons learned from Borjigin's eyes has been the opening of Borjigin's eyes to a thriving community still convinced of the pineal gland's mystical power

The core idea seems to come from a documentary featuring the work of researcher Rick Strassman , Ph.D. with the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. In the mid-1

990s, he conducted an experiment in which human subjects were given DMT by IV injection and interviewed after his effects wore off. In a documentary about the experiment, Strassman claims that he believed the pineal gland makes and secretes DMT

"I said to myself, wait, I've worked on the pineal gland for years and have never heard of it, "she said. She contacted Strassman, asking for the source of his statement. When Strassman admitted that it was just a hypothesis, Borjigin suggested they work together to test it. "I think if DMT is an endogenous monoamine, it should be very easy to detect using a fluorescence detector."

Using a process in which microdialysis tubing is inserted into a rat brain through the pineal gland, the researchers collected a sample that was analyzed for and confirmed the presence of DMT. That experiment resulted in a paper published in 2013.

However, Borjigin was not satisfied. Next, she sought to discover how and where DMT was synthesized. Her graduate student, Jon Dean, lead author of the paper, set up an experiment using a process called in situ hybridization, which uses a labeled complementary strand of DNA to localize a specific RNA sequence in a tissue section

"With this technique, we found brain neurons with the two enzymes required to make DMT, "says Borjigin.

"They are also found in other parts of the brain, including neocortex and hippocampus, which are important for higher-order brain functions including learning and memory."

is published in the journal Scientific Reports .

Her team's work has also revealed that the levels of DMT increase in some rats experiencing cardiac arrest. A paper published in 2018 by researchers in the UK that DMT simulates the near death experience, where people report the sensation of transcending their bodies and entering another realm. Borjigin hopes to probe further to discover the function of naturally occurring levels of DMT in the brain – and what if any role it plays in normal brain functions

"We do not know what it's doing in the brain. "We have discovered the neurons that make this chemical in the brain, and they do so at levels similar to other monoamine neurotransmitters."
                                                                                                                        


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More information:
Scientific Reports (2019). DOI: 10.1038 / s41598-019-45812-w

Provided by
University of Michigan

Citation :
                                                 'Mystical' psychedelic compound found in normal brains (2019, June 27)
                                                 retrieved 27 June 2019
                                                 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-06-mystical-psychedelic-compound-brains.html
                                            

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