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Exploring the Evolutionary, Developmental & Therapeutic Effects of MDMA in Animals
Octopuses on Ecstasy!? Oh my . . . tell me more!
Join our June webinar to discuss the evolutionary, developmental, and therapeutic effects of MDMA in animals. Care for the Healer (CFTH) is thrilled to host Dr. Gül Dölen, M.D., Ph.D., and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Department of Neuroscience for our June One Health Discovery Series episode.
Dr. Gül is an extremely accomplished scientist whose research has been making waves within the Neuroscience and Psychedelic Medicine communities. While her research interests are vast; we plan to discuss her research related to the use of 3-4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in rodents and octopuses.
She has found consistent pro-social effects of MDMA across species with vastly different neurological systems.
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MDMA (3-4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is a phenethylamine that produces euphoria in most individuals, and is an active ingredient in the street drug ‘ecstasy’ or ‘molly. The MDMA molecule has been getting a lot of press recently for its breakthrough potential as a treatment for anxiety and PTSD. Recent successful Phase 3 FDA clinical trials demonstrate the molecule’s real potential to become a part of a new paradigm of mental health treatment.
While research is still growing, the function of MDMA in humans is theorized to occur via a few different mechanisms based on fMRI studies. For people with anxiety, it appears to function by decreasing the communication between the medial temporal lobe and medial prefrontal cortex; a part of our brain that is responsible for emotional control. In anxious people, this region of the brain is firing at a higher rate. For PTSD patients, MDMA appears to function by increasing communication between the amygdala and hippocampus.
While researchers are striving to find out more about how MDMA affects brain function, Dr. Dölen’s research on octopuses with MDMA challenges what we currently know in multiple areas of medicine. For one – octopuses do not have amygdalas!....so, there must be more to the picture of this molecule’s mechanism of action.
Dr. Dölen is also thinking about psychedelics beyond their immediate euphoric effects. While a lot of the focus within the psychedelic medicine community is focused on neuroplasticity, she and her lab bring another perspective - ‘critical periods’ of brain development and function. When we are young, our brain is a sponge and creates new neural pathways to absorb all our new experiences. As we grow, these pathways harden and close. She suspects that psychedelics such as MDMA allow the brain to re-enter this child-like state. If true, this opens up a world of potential for mental health and physical injuries or disease.
Of course, we at CFTH are always interested in species beyond humans too!
Which of our veterinary species patients could benefit from an opening of the ‘critical period’ combined with pro-social behaviours? Dr. Casara Andre will be bringing this veterinary perspective to the conversation as we continue to explore these uncharted waters.
Dr. Gül Dölen | Neuroscientist
Dr. Gül is an Associate Professor in the Department of Neuroscience, Brain Science Institute, Wendy Klag Center for Autism & Developmental Disabilities, Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute.
Dr. Dölen is the recipient of several prestigious awards including: the Joukowsky Family Foundation Outstanding Dissertation Award, the Conquer Fragile X Rising Star Award, the Angus MacDonald Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, theSociety for Social Neuroscience Early Career Award, the Searle Scholars Award, and the Johns Hopkins University President’s Frontier Award. She joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins in 2014.
Dr. Casara Andre | Veterinarian
Veterinarian and Founding President of Care for the Healer, Dr. Casara Andre contributes her experience working with non-verbal, non-human mammals with behavioral conditions and thoughts on if and how psychedelic assisted therapy might be safely approached when working with veterinary species.
Dr. Andre is dedicated to providing practical education and harm reduction training to the emerging veterinary cannabis and psychedelic fields. She firmly believes that scientific curiosity can and will open unexpected, exciting, and hugely beneficial opportunities within this field but also that scientific rigor and scrutiny must never be neglected. She is dedicated propagating sustainable, community-minded paradigms that ensure the well-being of both pets and the veterinary practitioners that care for them.