Magic Mushrooms Can “Reboot” The Brains Of People Suffering With Depression
While most people associate magic mushrooms, or “‘shrooms”, with psychedelic hallucinations, dorm room parties, and hippies wearing tye-dye t-shirts, a team of scientists claim to have discovered an legitimate medicinal use for the fungus.
Researchers at Imperial College London may have effectively used psilocybin, a compound found in magic mushrooms, to “reboot” the brains of people diagnosed with depression. Psilocybin, which is naturally found in magic mushrooms, is responsible for producing the psychedelic effects associated with the fungi. It’s the same substance that might make you see little green men marching down the hallway, or think that the walls are melting into a swirl of colors.
The therapeutic benefits of psychedelics have gained more interest from researchers in the past decade, and there have been positive results from a number of clinical trials. In this latest study, psilocybin may have proven to change the activity of key brain circuits known to be associated with depression. Patients who were given the psychedelic compound report feeling “rebooted” after treatment. Brain scans of patients were taken before and after receiving psilocybin. The images revealed changes in brain activity that related to a long term reduction in depressive symptoms. Five weeks later, patients claimed that they were still feeling better. Not only was a decrease in depression reported, but participants also found they had an elevated mood and experienced less overall stress. This supports findings from two American studies that were conducted last year. These researchers had focused their clinical trials on cancer patients, but found that just one dose of psilocybin lifted symptoms of anxiety and depression for six months or more. However, the study conducted at Imperial College London is the first to show marked changes in the brain activity of those suffering from depression after failing to respond to conventional treatment.
Dr Robin Earhart-Harris is the head of psychedelic research and also led this study. She claims that patients reported feeling like their brains had been “reset” after receiving the psilocybin treatment. This is bigger than just experiencing a great “trip”.
“Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary ‘kick start’ they need to break out of their depressive states and these imaging results do tentatively support a ‘reset’ analogy. Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy.”
The study involved 20 patients with depression who had previously not responded to conventional treatment. They were given two doses of psilocybin a week apart, one dose of 10mg and the other of 25mg. Brain scans and imaging methods were used to monitor brain activity, which revealed reduced blood flow to specific parts of the brain, including the amygdala. This is a small, almond-shaped part of the brain located deep within the temporal lobes. It plays a role in memory and decision making, but also in processing emotional reactions, including fear and stress. The director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit in the division of brain sciences at Imperial College London, Professor David Nutt, understands that while these findings are limited to a small trial, the results are encouraging. He believes that “larger studies are needed to see if this positive effect can be reproduced in more patients. But these initial findings are exciting and provide another treatment avenue to explore.” Researchers at Imperial College realize that their results require further study. The significance of their research is limited by the small sample size and lack of a control group. They emphasize that it would be dangerous for anyone with depression to use any form of psilocybin in an attempt to self-medicate. Plans are in the works for researchers to test psilocybin against a leading antidepressant early next year. They are hopeful that these new trials will continue to produce positive results. Sure makes all those tye-dye t-shirt wearing, mushroom tea sipping hippies seem pretty cool, huh?