Certain mushrooms contain a hallucinogen, which according to the experts can “reset” the brains of people who suffer from untreatable depression. Consumption of these magic mushrooms can also raise hopes for future treatment.
The scientists conducted a small study including 19 patients, who received a single dose of the psychedelic ingredient psilocybin found in the several species of Central American mushroom. The results of the study showed that half of the patients ceased to be depressed, experiencing the changes in their brain activity that lasted about five weeks.
Even though the results of many studies are positive, the team at Imperial College London says people should not self-medicate.
A series of small studies showed that psilocybin could have a role in depression by acting as a “lubricant for the mind.” Psilocybin allows people to escape a cycle of depressive symptoms, but what the precise impact it might be having on brain activity was not known, yet.
The team at Imperial College London performed fMRI brain scans of the patients before treatment with psilocybin and then the day after when the patients were “clearheaded” again.
According to the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, psilocybin affected two key areas of the brain.
1) The amygdala
This is heavily involved in how people process emotions such as fear and anxiety – it became less active. The improvement in reported symptoms occurs when the reduction is greater.
2) The default-mode network
Responsible for the collaboration of different brain regions. It became more stable after taking psilocybin.
The head of psychedelic research at Imperial, Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, explains that the psychedelic experience “reset” the depressed brain.
For the BBC News website he told:
“Patients were very ready to use this analogy. Without any priming, they would say, ‘I’ve been reset, reborn, rebooted’, and one patient said his brain had been defragged and cleaned up.”
Unfortunately, this small study had no “control” group of healthy people with whom to compare the brain scans.
To accept psilocybin as a treatment for depression larger studies are still needed.
According to Prof Mitul Mehta, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, “What is impressive about these preliminary findings is that brain changes occurred in the networks we know are involved in depression, after just a single dose of psilocybin.”
He, also added that this provides a clear rationale to now look at the longer-term mechanisms in controlled studies.