LSD and Parkinsons Disease

In a very real sense the circle is also closing with respect to Hofmann's hope, expressed at the time of his epoch-making discovery of LSD, that because of its ability to mimic certain mental illnesses the drug might prove useful in their treatment. In fact, LSD has been employed to that end over the years by some psychiatrists, often with beneficial results. However, the potency of LSD and the severe legal limitations imposed in recent years on its use even under controlled scientific conditions have caused psychotherapists to turn to other chemical agents, such as those discussed in a previous chapter.

Recently, however, scientists at the School of Medicine of the University of California at Los Angeles have made some significant discoveries about the interaction of LSD with dopamine, one of the neurotransmitter agents in the brain, that may lead not only to a better understanding and eventual treatment of schizophrenia, the mental disorder to which the LSD "high" is a kind of temporary analogue, but even of such physically, rather than mentally, crippling disorders as Parkinson's disease (UCLA Weekly, 1975:4). The investigators, Drs. Sidney Roberts and Kern von Hungen and Diane F. Hill, determined that adenyl cyclase, an enzyme in nervous tissue that is stimulated by naturally occurring neurotransmitter agents, is also stimulated by the action of LSD on receptors for one of these neurotransmitters, dopamine. In addition, LSD blocked the stimulatory actions of dopamine and other neurotransmitters (agents that aid in conducting impulses along nerve cells, specifically bridging the gap, or synapse, between them), such as serotonin and norepeninephrine. These, as noted in the Introduction to this book, are themselves structurally closely related to powerful plant growth hormones; dopamine, moreover, has also been identified with the giant saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) of Arizona and northern Mexico (Bruhn, 1971:323).

Schizophrenia is thought to be a disease of dopamine hyperactivity; victims of Parkinson's disease, on the other hand, suffer from dopamine insufficiency, which is partially offset nowadays by the administration of a new drug, L-dopa, often in combination with Tofranil or some other amphetamine. The adenyl cyclase experiments enabled the UCLA team to show that dopamine receptors are present in the higher regions of the brain, which are concerned with the more complex experiences and thus are more likely to be the seat of alternate states of consciousness, or "hallucinations." Their work, report the UCLA investigators, makes it appear that the psychotic mimicking effects of LSD, first noted by Hofmann more than thirty years ago, may also be related to hyperactivity of brain dopamine systems. These insights have obvious implications for work on new drugs for schizophrenia on the one hand and Parkinson's disease on the other; recognition of their biochemical kinship was, of course, still far off in the distant future when Hofmann correctly predicted the ultimate benefits of LSD for brain research. Nor did he suspect at the time that "primitive" psychotherapy had been making effective use of a natural compound very like LSD for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.

Lysergic acid, Hofmann (1967) has explained,

... is the foundation stone of the ergot alkaloids, the active principle of the fungus product ergot. Botanically speaking ergot is the sclerotia of the filamentous fungus Claviceps purpurea which grows on grasses, especially rye. The ears of rye that have been attacked by the fungus develop into long, dark pegs to form ergot. The chemical and pharmacological investigation of the ergot alkaloids has been a main field of research of the natural products division of the Sandoz laboratories since the discovery of ergotamine by A. Stoll in 1918. A variety of useful phannaceuticals have resulted from these investigations, which have been conducted over a number of decades. They find wide application in obstetrics, in internal medicine, in neurology and psychiatry, (p. 349)

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