Using Psychedelics and AI to Treat Brain Injuries
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Dig if you will a picture: I’m chatting with my buddy Courtney as the sun sets over the San Diego horizon. Pink and intense, warm—friendly. But we’re talking serious stuff: brain injury.
Courtney tells me about the time she was a camp counselor in France. She’s competitive, and so when playing “Capture the Flag” with the kids she went all out. Suddenly, she was flying across the slick grass of the Pyrénées, rebounding on her head. She got up, dusted herself off, laughed.
“I’m just going to head back to camp for a bit,” she said, slouching toward their commune. Along the way, a shepherd saw her, noticed her bizarre gait—but still, she waved him off. “Bonjour!” she said, but her voice was off. Everything was off. She’d experienced a concussion.
While we laughed at her story, I couldn’t help but liken it to experiences from my past. As an athlete—and perhaps more importantly, as someone who always plays hard—I’ve had plenty of moments where I have questioned my brain health. Anyone who has suffered a concussion or other brain trauma risks having been left with unanswered questions: Is this pain from my brain injury? Is this just your run-of-the-mill headache? Could my depression be related?
Thankfully, concussions and other brain injuries are now being taken more seriously. We’ve seen how soccer leagues and American football have come under scrutiny—fields where concussions were traditionally viewed as part of the game.
A psychedelic renaissance
According to the National Institute of Health, one in five individuals may experience mental health symptoms up to six months after even a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). These factors may increase the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or major depressive disorder. The effects may be lifelong and can include issues related to emotional functioning (e.g., personality changes, depression) along with impairments related to thinking or memory, movement, and sensations, such as vision or hearing.
Still, brain health, like mental health, is often taken for granted. Break a bone or sprain a ligament and the average person will get treated. They will have no qualms in talking about the injury or its prescribed treatment. But the discussion around brain health isn’t the same, hence the cliché: It’s all in your head.
As someone who has experienced concussions, I need scientific answers to brain-related issues. I’d rather take the issue head-on (forgive me). And what more ample opportunity to raise the topic than during National Brain Injury Month?
At MINDCURE, we’ve identified traumatic brain injury as a priority indication which shares important biological pathways associated to pain. But how we access these pathways is the more interesting question, and that’s where our investigation into the therapeutic potential of psychedelic compounds for TBI and related conditions comes into play.
Leading the charge for MINDCURE’s trauma and head injury research is Dr. Engle, Board Certified in Psychiatry and Neurology, with a clinical practice that combines functional medicine, integrative psychiatry, neuro-cognitive restoration. He is also author of the book The Concussion Repair Manual. Dr. Engle calls this era in brain health a “psychedelic renaissance in the redemption of modern psychiatric care.” In other words, this is where the market is headed. Not only are there more decriminalization efforts being made against psychedelics, but we also see increased FDA approvals for its therapeutic use, as well as renowned hospitals like John Hopkins, launching their own departments for psychedelic research.
The Artificial Intelligence Factor
Former MMA fighter Ian McCall said that psilocybin was the cure-all for brain damage. Daniel Carcillo quit the NHL and now dedicates his life to curing mental health-related symptoms due to TBI. The reality is, we've now got evidence that our rough and tumble passions may have left us feeling rough indeed, but now there's hope—the possibility of full recovery through psychedelics and assisted therapy.
Knowing those with TBI often seek therapy for depression or addiction issues, we aim to help them with our research and technology. There is a multiplicity of plant medicines ideal for each specific symptom. By adding AI to the mix, we can provide speed to market with novel psychedelic therapies through deeper data analytics. iSTRYM is a digital therapeutic tool designed to provide close to real-time data regarding patient care, procedures and protocols, and other resources for therapists, clinicians, and patients with mental health concerns.
There’s a gap in the market: Most therapists still use pad and paper, and many cannot monitor their patients before and after a session. Moreover, how can they observe a patient on psychedelics when not in session? iSTRYM digitizes the patient experiences. The therapist becomes more informed before the patient returns. The platform's AI optimizes the patient's care based on the data collected during his/her actual experiences. It becomes both the therapist's and the patient's wingman.
Concussions and brain injuries are all too often anecdotes like my friend's, sometimes even viewed as rites of passage—while their residual effects are left discounted or tolerated. Brain injury deserves the same attention we give to broken bones and sprained ligaments—and not just in the short term.
Brain trauma and pain can be treated—the injury need not be mysterious or in your head. And so, I'm thrilled to see where research and AI platforms are leading us in its treatment. After all, humans have engaged with psychedelics the moment we discovered them. Finally, we're applying scientific backup and real-time data capture to prove what many of us have up until this time referred to only—as magic.