Randomized clinical trials, involving comparing the effects of the drug to some participants, placebo to others, and the effects of both, are considered the gold standard in such studies.
But such trials are slow and costly and involve only a small number of participants. ,[It takes] Multiple years, seven-digit costs, [and] Moral approval takes forever, ”says Bzdok.
Instead, his team used a natural language process to evaluate 6,850 written accounts of deceptive drug use. Each account was written by a person who took one of 27 drugs, including ketamine, MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin, in a real-world setting, not as part of a lab-based experiment. These accounts were accessed from the website of Erowid, a member-supported drug information organization.
Bzdok’s team then compiled the data with a record of which receptors each drug is known to interact with in the brain. Together, these measures allow the team to identify which neurotransmitter receptors are associated with words associated with specific drug experiences.
For example, words associated with mystical experiences, such as “space,” “universe,” “consciousness,” “dimension,” and “success,” were associated with drugs that bind to specific dopamine, serotonin, and opioid receptors.
Bzdok says the approach could provide new starting points for drug development. Theoretically, drugs designed to target these receptors should exclude specific aspects of psychedelic drug experiences, says Bezdock, whose work was published today in the journal Science Advances.
Frederick Barrett, a psychedelic neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, disagrees. “People don’t always know [what drug they’re taking]”Doses are not always well-calibrated in the real world, and there are many variations in real-world experiences that are also fully recognizable,” he says.