9th December 2021
By Emily Ledger

It is estimated that around 100,000 people die from drug overdoses in the US every year. The majority of these deaths are related to the use of both prescribed and illicit fentanyl – a powerful opioid that is used as a painkiller. The deadly opioid epidemic of North America has left researchers and lawmakers urgently searching for solutions – and one may come from an unlikely source…

Ibogaine is a psychedelic substance that is derived from the iboga shrub, native to West Africa. The shrub has historically been used as a ritual aid by members of the Bwiti religion in the African country of Gabon. However, a growing body of evidence – both anecdotal and increasingly, clinical – evidence suggests that the substance could be useful for tackling drug addiction, including heroin and other opioids.

Massachusetts-based startup Delix Therapeutics is on a mission to turn the non-psychedelic analogues of powerful hallucinogenics into medicines that can treat a number of psychiatric and neurological disorders. The company will be working with the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) to test its patented version of ibogaine for its potential to treat a range of substance-use disorders.

The co-founder and chief innovation officer of Delix, David E. Olson PhD, said in a statement: “Preclinical results published in Nature last year demonstrated that DLX-7 [one of the company’s patented novel compounds] reduces alcohol- and heroin-seeking behaviour, and we are thrilled to collaborate with NIDA to further evaluate its potential as a novel treatment for addiction across a variety of substances and models.”

While ibogaine has proved to be a potentially useful chemical for the treatment of various mental health conditions, side effects such as causing cardiac arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) and an often intense psychedelic experience.

That is why Olson, who is a professor at the University of California at Davis, modified the ibogaine molecule. This modified analogue, Delix-7, is not psychedelic and doesn’t cause cardiac arrhythmia.

As interest in the therapeutic and medical potential of psychedelics, in general, continues to grow, a lab contracted by Nida’s Addiction Treatment Discovery program will conduct preclinical trials to determine the pharmacological, pharmacokinetic and toxicological properties of Delix’s compound.

If the preclinical studies and animal studies show favourable results, Delix will reportedly apply to the US Food and Drug Administration to launch human clinical trials.

The trial is the most recent of a number of studies aiming to assess the therapeutic of psychedelic substances for the treatment of various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and addiction.

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