NEW ORLEANS - A breakthrough discovery by a local doctor could one day lead to new medications that keep asthma symptoms from ever developing, even when a person is exposed to something they are allergic to.

And you may find the potential treatment unusual.

When most people think of psychedelic drugs they think of the 1960s, LSD, magic mushrooms, and people using them to change the brain and behavior. But a scientist at LSU Health Sciences Center has been studying psychedelic drugs for 20 years.

"I've been trying for several years to try to understand how these drugs are working in the brain, because we really don't understand that and in the process of this, we discovered, much to my surprise, that they are very potent anti-inflammatories," said Dr. Charles Nichols, an associate professor at LSUHSC in the Department of Pharmacology in Experimental Therapeutics.

What made the scientists think about studying psychedelic drugs and asthma is in their lab, they discovered that the same drugs blocked inflammation in rodent arteries. And asthma is an illness that causes inflammation in the airways.

"It essentially blocked the development of the symptoms of asthma in a mouse model at really low doses, something that would not anywhere near approach what would be necessary for (altered) behaviors," explained Dr. Nichols.

His discovery is the first time psychedelic drugs have been shown to be effective in treating diseases outside of the brain. He says this breakthrough could one day lead to a new treatment for asthma used in an inhaler or a daily pill.

Dr. Nichols now also has a grant to study another common inflammatory illness, atherosclerosis, as in coronary artery disease where plaque builds up inside your arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes.

Psychedelic drugs are also in clinical trials, in other states, to treat alcohol and nicotine addiction, as well as anxiety and depression.

His work was recently published in the American Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology.