New Potential for Psychedelics in Stroke Recovery

There have been vast improvements in the lifespan of Canadians who have suffered strokes in the past three decades. Despite this, strokes are still the third leading cause of death in Canada and a large contributor to the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability, or early death. Over 50,000 Canadians suffer from strokes each year, and over 425,000 live with the effects of strokes.

Furthermore, much of the clinical research on strokes focuses on men, even though 59% of all deaths caused by strokes in Canada are of women.

Strokes occur when there’s a blockage of blood supply to the brain, or a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds. This action prevents oxygen and blood from accessing the brain’s tissues. Without oxygen, brain tissue and cells become damaged and die in a matter of minutes. There are three main types of stroke: ischemic stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, and transient ischemic attack (TIA).

Prevention and recovery from strokes

Maintaining one’s health and minimizing smoking and alcohol intake and the chances of obesity are crucial for preventing strokes.

Prompt treatment and medical evaluation are crucial for recovery. Rehabilitation must start as soon as possible, likely in the hospital. Recovery treatments can stabilize the condition, assess the effects of the stroke, identify underlying factors, and involve therapy to help patients regain affected skills. Treatment varies according to the type of stroke. Types of therapy may include cognitive, speech, or physical therapy, and relearning sensory skills.

The potential for the “spirit molecule”

N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, a naturally occurring chemical substance, is found in psychedelics, but it also exists in small concentrations in the brain. It was named the “Spirit Molecule” by Dr. Rick Strassman, an American clinical associate professor of psychiatry, and DMT research pioneer.

In experiments conducted by University of Szeged in Hungary in May 2020 using rats, researchers found DMT binds to the sigma-1 receptor (Sig-1R)5, which regulates the response of neural cells to stressors. These cells can become stressed because of a prolonged absence of nutrients and/or oxygen, which can lead to damage. Sig-1R can be an attractive therapeutic target to ensure healthy regulation of cell stress in the brain following events such as a stroke

Photo: Fakurian Design

Researchers induced a stroke model using regional brain tissue damage. After blood flow was restored, the animals received an initial dose of DMT followed by continuous infusion for 24 hours. Behavioural assessments were carried out for 30 days to assess motor function, and brain damage was assessed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Other indicators of inflammation were measured in the brain and blood. The size of the brain lesions in rats that were given DMT following injury were reduced compared to rats that did not receive DMT, highlighting the neuroprotective effect of DMT.

Following this preclinical animal study, Vancouver-based Algernon Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced its establishment of a clinical research program for stroke treatment focused on DMT. One of the study’s authors is Dr. Ede Frecska who joined Algernon as a consultant to its program.

The company plans to focus on a microdose of DMT provided by continuous intravenous administration with the goal of providing patients with the therapeutic benefits of DMT, without a psychedelic experience. They consider this an important element when considering treating a patient who has just suffered a stroke; medications that cause a hallucinogenic response could cause unwanted confusion and stress.

Algernon hopes their approach will pave a quicker pathway to regulatory approval including Breakthrough Therapy designation from the U.S. FDA, which enables priority review of a drug candidate if preliminary clinical trials show that the therapy may offer substantial treatment advantages over existing options for patients with serious or life-threatening diseases. 

Algernon has also filed provisional patents for new forms of DMT, besides formulation, dosage and method of use claims for ischemic stroke, and has filed claims for combination therapy of DMT and Constraint Induced Movement Therapy (“CIMT”). It plans to be the first company globally to pursue DMT for stroke in humans and is planning to begin a clinical trial in Q4 2021.


HAVN Life supports formulations and research for innovative therapies that are effective in addressing mental health and performance. We’re excited by the research that’s being done on DMT and therapy for stroke recovery to help people heal and thrive.

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