Psychedelics and Other Psychoplastogens for Treating Mental Illness

Front Psychiatry. 2021 Oct 4;12:727117. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.727117. eCollection 2021.


Psychedelics have inspired new hope for treating brain disorders, as they seem to be unlike any treatments currently available. Not only do they produce sustained therapeutic effects following a single administration, they also appear to have broad therapeutic potential, demonstrating efficacy for treating depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorder, and alcohol use disorder, among others. Psychedelics belong to a more general class of compounds known as psychoplastogens, which robustly promote structural and functional neural plasticity in key circuits relevant to brain health. Here we discuss the importance of structural plasticity in the treatment of neuropsychiatric diseases, as well as the evidence demonstrating that psychedelics are among the most effective chemical modulators of neural plasticity studied to date. Furthermore, we provide a theoretical framework with the potential to explain why psychedelic compounds produce long-lasting therapeutic effects across a wide range of brain disorders. Despite their promise as broadly efficacious neurotherapeutics, there are several issues associated with psychedelic-based medicines that drastically limit their clinical scalability. We discuss these challenges and how they might be overcome through the development of non-hallucinogenic psychoplastogens. The clinical use of psychedelics and other psychoplastogenic compounds marks a paradigm shift in neuropsychiatry toward therapeutic approaches relying on the selective modulation of neural circuits with small molecule drugs. Psychoplastogen research brings us one step closer to actually curing mental illness by rectifying the underlying pathophysiology of disorders like depression, moving beyond simply treating disease symptoms. However, determining how to most effectively deploy psychoplastogenic medicines at scale will be an important consideration as the field moves forward.

Keywords: depression; hallucinogenic; ketamine; neuroplasticity; prefrontal cortex; psilocybin; psychedelic; psychoplastogen.

Publication types

  • Review