Magic mushrooms may be effective in “resetting” areas of the brain linked to depression, according to a new study on the benefits of psychedelics.
In clinical trials over the years, psychedelics such as mushrooms have shown to be promising in treating depression and addictions, The Guardian reports. Researchers at the Imperial College London used psilocybin, the psychoactive compound naturally found in what are called magic mushrooms, to treat a number of patients suffering from depression.
The researchers monitored brain activity in the patients, and images taken before and after treatment showed changes that were associated with lasting reductions in symptoms. The participants also reported that the benefits lasted for up to five weeks following treatment.
Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial and lead author on the study, said,
We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments.
He added, “Several of our patients described feeling ‘reset’ after the treatment and often used computer analogies. For example, one said he felt like his brain had been ‘defragged’ like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt ‘rebooted’.”
Carhart-Harris further explained, “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.”
For the study, the researchers gave 20 patients who had resisted other forms of treatment two doses of psilocybin (10mg and 25mg). Nineteen of them had initial brain imaging, and a second scan after the higher dose was given.
The scientists then used two brain imaging methods to measure changes in blood flow and in the crosstalk between brain regions. The patients also reported their symptoms using clinical questionnaires.
Immediately after treatment, the patients reported feeling a drop I depressive symptoms, including stress relief and brighter moods. MRI imaging revealed reduced blood flow in the amygdala, the part of the brain known to process emotional responses, fear and stress.
These new findings could provide insight into what happens to people when they “come down” from a high after using a psychedelic, the researchers say. They do warn people not to self-medicate, and stress the need for further research on the topic.
The study was published in Scientific Reports.