Can machines help predict the perfect psychedelic dose?
MindMed, a New York-based neuropharmacological company that creates “psychedelic inspired medicines,” announced last week that they are developing technologies and analytics that aim to “optimize” the dosing of MDMA and LSD treatments for patients with mental health conditions.
Research and development of this method is taking place in collaboration with Liechti Lab, a research center at the University Hospital Basel in Basel Switzerland which focuses on LSD, MDMA, and other psychedelic compounds.
Earlier this year, MindMed announced a long-term partnership with Liechti Lab, gaining “exclusive worldwide rights to data, compounds, and patents” associated with the laboratory’s research with psychedelic compounds.
MindMed says it has the world’s leading collection of human safety data and pharmacokinetics for both MDMA and LSD based on more than ten years of scientific and clinical research at Liechti Lab. The company acquired an exclusive license to these data in a previous agreement with the University Hospital Basel.
According to MindMed, also known as Mind Medicine Inc., understanding and predicting optimal doses for patients poses a “considerable problem” for doctors, clinical researchers, and therapists.
“How do you initially know what’s the best dose for the patient?” asks MindMed’s Co-CEO JR Rahn. “The therapist might have experience, and know what the subjective effects typically are, but it’s different for everyone.”
The optimization method is intended to serve as a tool for therapists so they can make the best decisions for their patients. “We’re trying to build tool sets to make psychedelics more effective medicines,” says Rahn.
To assemble a patient’s personalized dosing regimen, the analytics method developed by MindMed and Liechti Lab aggregates the patient’s data and criteria through a pre-dose screening and analysis process.
Co-inventor Dr. Matthias Liechti, says the approach will take into account dose-response data and simple adjustments based on gender and body weight. He says it will also include “pharmacogenetic and personality predictors to optimize dosing and to induce specific mental states.”
Rahn says that the system would also evaluate the risk of contraindicating drugs. “What we’re trying to do is understand physiological factors, besides just mental or psychological factors, in creating the right dose.”
Research and development is still in the early stages. Rahn says the method needs further testing. According to Rahn, the approach has “is based on Liecthi Lab’s know how from nine clinical trials in the MDMA space, and a similar number in the LSD space. But it will have to be proven effective in various indications as we move forward.”
Rahn describes Dr. Liechti as a “pharmacologist by background who stumbled on psychedelics,” who believes that psychedelics will never be accepted as medicines unless they are deeply understood.
“He spent the last 10 years really looking at human safety” around psychedelics, says Rahn.
This approach to dosing may help detect situations that are potentially life-threatening.
“Perhaps this technology can help identify patients who are on medications that would be dangerous in combination with some psychedelics and not others,” says Elizabeth M. Nielson, psychologist and co-founder of Fluence, a program that trains mental health professionals in psychedelic integration.
When Westerners go to ayahuasca retreat centers in the Amazon to partake in traditional healing ceremonies, they are typically asked to divulge what, if any, drugs they’ve ingested recently, as part of a screening process. Rahn says that while he has “deep respect” for shamanic practitioners, this approach alone won’t suffice in the Western medical paradigm.
“If we’re going to really bring psychedelics full scale to most of society, we’re going to have to do it with greater certainty. You also have to respect that our societies work a little bit differently than the Amazon,” says Rahn. “In the same way that the shaman was the head of the village, where you would seek out advice from, we kind of do that with therapists and doctors here.”
While pre-dose screening and analysis has value, it shouldn’t be regarded as a replacement for clinical expertise, or as a means of overruling patient preferences, says Nielson. “What we must remember about psychedelic treatments is that they are holistic treatments, meaning they incorporate and treat the whole of the person,” she says.
When asked about the role of human evaluation in the process, Rahn confirms that optimization methods will not take the place of a doctor’s input.
“You don’t just hook your head up to a reader that suddenly pops out an algorithm that says, ‘you should take X amount of MDMA’,” says Rahn.
Over time, the technology will become stronger and more effective as MindMed accrues more research data, ultimately helping the medical professional make the best decision, says Rahn.
The University Hospital Basel and MindMed have filed two separate patent applications for MDMA dose optimization and LSD dose response. In accordance with the agreement of their partnership, MindMed has “exclusive rights” from the University of Basel to “commercialize the outcome of these patent applications on a global basis.”
What that commercialization looks like isn’t yet clear to Rahn, who says the company’s focus, for the time-being, is development. He does, however, see this method being available to other companies looking to treat patients with psychedelic medicines down the line.
“I think we would only open this technology up to medical professionals and therapists because we believe strongly in that model, and that these catalysts or medicines are most effective in the supervision of therapists,” says Rahn.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that MindMed is a Canadian company. The story has since been updated to reflect that MindMed is based in New York.
This story has also been updated to reflect that according to Co-CEO JR Rahn, the method developed by MindMed “is based on Liechti Lab’s know how from nine clinical trials in the MDMA space, and a similar number in the LSD space. But it will have to be proven effective in various indications as we move forward.” An earlier version of the story did not attribute the clinical trials directly to Liechti Lab.