Endogenous Hallucinogen Assay

One of our primary research project s, being developed by Steven Barker, Ph.D. (Vice-President of Cottonwood Research Foundation), his graduate student Ethan McIlHenny (School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge Louisiana) and Dr. Rick Strassman (President of Cottonwood Research Foundation), is the development of a new methodology to measure DMT, 5-methoxy-DMT, and bufotenine, as well as their precursors and metabolic breakdown products using state-of-the-art liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC/MS) equipment. Previous investigations into the role of endogenous tryptamine hallucinogens in humans did not have at their disposal methods sensitive enough to measure the parent hallucinogens at their apparent very low levels, particularly in blood. Additionally, all such studies have previously ignored the importance of the levels of their precursors and metabolites, information that is necessary to fully assess the status of the endogenous hallucinogen pathway. This project hopes to provide an improvement over previous assay sensitivity by at least one thousand-fold and finally provide information on the entire pathway as a function of time and in health and disease.

An ultra-sensitive assay that will provide a deep view into the function of the naturally occurring tryptamine hallucinogens in humans, in both normal and non-normal states, is almost ready. We have established a simple method to, at present, separate, identify and quantify 26 compounds simultaneously in a single blood sample. Our current methodology provides us with the ability to prepare a blood sample for analysis as small as 100 microliters in as little as ten minutes and complete the sample analysis in as little as twenty minutes, all at the sub-nanogram level for the compounds being examined. The method is currently undergoing validation studies and we are continuing to examine ways to enhance overall assay sensitivity.

The first application of this method will be in samples taken from consumers of ayahuasca, examining samples to confirm the metabolic pathways and to examine levels under enhanced conditions. This will be conducted in conjunction with the need to establish values in healthy men and women of all ages under “normal” physiological conditions. Circadian changes will also be examined. We will then begin the comparison of these values to those found in naturally occurring altered states of consciousness in which endogenous hallucinogens may play a role. These conditions and states include mania, schizophrenia, autism, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, and dissociation. Such information may lead to important new breakthroughs in understanding and treating these disorders.

In addition, we will determine levels in sleep, dreams, meditation, childbirth, and near-death states. Establishing the role of endogenous tryptamines in these states will provide tremendous insight into their origination, and may lead to more reliable means of working with and studying their utility.

With additional funding from our contributors, we anticipate that it will take approximately a year to complete the development of the new assay, and establish normative values. Subsequent research into these compound’s role in naturally occurring altered states, occurring in collaboration with research centers around the world, will be ongoing for many years.