Researchers combine cannabis and psilocybin for medical treatments

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Image of cannabis buds on a plate next to psilocybin that was shaken out of a jar

(Photo by Cannabis_Pic/stock.adobe.com)

Combining cannabinoids with psilocybin into a single formula for treating both physical and mental health issues took another step closer to reality as described in a product patent from a major cannabinoid laboratory, CaaMTech.

CaaMTech, based in Issaquah, Washington, less than 20 miles southeast of Seattle, is analyzing how the two substances interact with each other as well as the specific physical and mental health outcomes that can be expected.

Their purified psilocybin-cannabinoid product is in the early development stages right now.

This patent development is coming at a time when there is more genetic information about both cannabis and psilocybin, opening the door to exploring other ways that these two substances could work together – and perhaps be combined into new commercial products.

For example, cannabis combined with psilocybin has been found to shrink tumors in breast cancer in the specific case of a 49-year-old woman.

That discovery led researchers to conclude that “growing anecdotal and real-world evidence is reported of the therapeutic effect of cannabinoids and psychedelics in reducing both tumor proliferation and aiding as a palliative medicine to treat pain and psychological distress associated with cancer and chemotherapy.”

Researchers now say they can envision a one-and-done solution to serious mental health and inflammation issues that uses properties of both, possibly by mixing in psilocybin with a minor cannabinoid such as cannabichromene (CBC), which is one of the more abundant cannabinoids in the plant.

“That most certainly can be done,” Charlie Bowman, president and CEO of Canadian cannabis company Hexo Corp., told MJBizDaily.

“CBC is hard to grow, it’s hard to synthesize, so it’s expensive,” he added.

“If I take just a little bit of CBC and combine that with psilocybin mushrooms, I’ll be able to get a different price point that will open that up to more customers and consumers.

“So you can put CBC into a water soluble form, and then put it with mushrooms, you could actually consume it as tea.”

Daniel McQueen, the author of “Psychedelic Cannabis” and the executive director of the Center for Medicinal Mindfulness in Boulder, Colorado, is doing cannabis-assisted psychedelic therapy at the organization involving facilitating individual psychedelic cannabis and ketamine experiences with medical oversight, guided meditation sessions, individual coaching, classes and community support.

He agreed that a psilocybin-cannabis pill, or combo compound, is “totally doable.”

“But we’re able to induce psychedelic states with cannabis without any other psychedelics,” he told MJBizDaily.

“We work regularly with cannabis as a psychedelic for the same reasons that people get psilocybin and other medicines.

“So imagine a three-hour, DMT-level psychedelic experience with the emotional support of MDMA and the capacity to retain your sense of agency (the control over actions and their consequences),” McQueen added, referencing the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine.

“This is what we’re experiencing with psychedelic cannabis.”

Various obstacles

There are serious obstacles to creating a combo compound.

Cannabinoids and psychedelics act on different receptors in the brain.

Cannabinoids such as THC binds primarily to the CB1 cannabinoid receptor; CBC binds primarily to the CB2 receptor.

Psychedelics such as psilocybin bind primarily to 5-HT2A serotonin receptors.

But there has been research showing that the cannabinoid CBD can bind to serotonin, and that, when serotonin is joined with a CB2 cannabinoid receptor, the resulting combination can do things that neither receptor can do on its own.

For example, according to a 2022 study by Spanish scientists investigating ischemia (a condition that causes interrupted blood flow) in newborn piglets, neuroprotective effects were brought about by a serotonin receptor activated by CBD.

“In fact, the main neuroprotective effects of CBD are believed to be related to the activation of the 5-HT1A receptor (which is one of three serotonin receptors that psilocybin binds to),” the study found.

Tumors, brain injuries and PTSD

Buoyed by the potential of the combo compound, the medical cannabis community is growing increasingly excited.

For example, cannabis combined with psychedelics has been found to shrink tumors significantly in breast cancer.

Other work at the University of Miami is examining combining CBD with psilocybin in one pill to treat traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

And new research based on responses to a survey suggests evidence of cannabis combined with psychedelics helps with psychedelics-assisted therapy, citing potential overlap in receptor targets.

“Therapeutically desirable psychological effects associated with psychedelics may, in theory, be enhanced by concomitant cannabis use,” according to the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London.

“Cannabis itself induces subjective effects that are similar to some effects of psychedelics, such as euphoria, changes in perception of time, intensification of sensory perception and hyper-associative thinking,” the Imperial researchers concluded from responses to a survey of 321 participants from 40 countries.

“While the molecular basis of the synergistic effects between cannabis and psychedelics was not explored in the current study, the obtained results are suggestive of its existence.”

Despite serotonergic psychedelics and cannabis having seemingly different modes of action, the Imperial researchers reported, “recent studies have brought to attention a potential degree of overlap in receptor targets of both of these drug classes.”

Similarities between cannabis and psychedelics

Other research is exploring options about cannabis and psychedelics mimicking each other.

For example, some cannabinoids recently discovered offer, in effect, a higher high and a more psychedelic high, which could be used for psychedelic-assisted therapy without other psychedelics.

The controversial and potentially dangerous THC-O is one example.

THC-O, also known as THC acetate ester, is a relative newcomer, a “synthetic cannabinoid” created via chemical synthesis that delivers an intoxicating punch.

According to Forbes, consumers report that THC-O causes more spiritual or psychedelic psychoactivity than other cannabinoids.

Another newly discovered cannabinoid is THCP.

Researchers say it could be as much as 33 times stronger than THC and could be the secret sauce of some cannabis strains.

What that will do to humans – whether it could be stronger than a psychedelic and, thus, could replace a psychedelic as a therapeutic – is unknown at this point.

“In our opinion, this compound should be included in the list of the main phytocannabinoids to be determined for a correct evaluation of the pharmacological effect of the cannabis extracts administered to patients,” a 2019 study by a host of Italian researchers concluded.

“In fact, we believe that the discovery of an extremely potent THC-like phytocannabinoid may shed light on several pharmacological effects not ascribable solely to delta-9 THC.

“The presence of this new phytocannabinoid could account for the pharmacological properties of some cannabis varieties difficult to explain by the presence of the sole delta-9 THC.”

And there are psychedelics being made where the hallucinatory effect has been engineered out, essentially becoming non-psychedelic antidepressants.

A research team led by Dr. Bryan Roth, a professor of pharmacology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, developed a new compound that hits the same brain cell target as psychedelic drugs in mice, triggering long-lasting antidepressant action without psychedelic effects.

“The goal is to make a drug which is not psychedelic but which has the therapeutic actions of psychedelics,” Roth told MJBizDaily.

Roth is skeptical of a combined psychedelics/cannabis compound.

“What cannabis does is it turns neuron activity down, basically, throughout the brain,” Roth said.

“What psychedelics do is increase neuronal activity in one particular type of neuron in the brain. So the effects are completely different.”

The bottom line is that researchers such as Roth are still working to find better solutions to working on mental health issues, whatever substance that involves.

“We’re starting to get reports now that after six months or a year, in many patients, the effect (in psilocybin-assisted therapy) tends to fade away, and maybe they need to take psilocybin again or not,” Roth said.

“We just don’t know.”

He said researchers are still trying to understand how psychedelic drugs act in the brain.

Roth noted in a March 2022 paper that he co-wrote that nearly 60 companies have been formed to explore opportunities for psychedelics in treating diverse diseases despite the uncertainty about which aspects of 5-HT2A receptor activity in the central nervous system are responsible for therapeutic effects.

“It’s still pretty mysterious about what the heck’s going on,” he said.