Researchers from Imperial College London have found evidence that the magic mushroom compound psilocybin may “reset” the brains of people who have experienced treatment-resistant depression.
“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,” lead author Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial, said in a statement.
The research study: “resetting” the brains of depressed patients
Patients in the study were given two doses of psilocybin. The first dose of 10mg was given immediately and the second dose of 25mg was given after one week. The patients reported how they felt with the use of clinical questionnaires.
“Several of our patients described feeling ‘reset’ after the treatment and often used computer analogies,” Dr Carhart-Harris reported. “For example, one said he felt like his brain had been ‘defragged’ like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt ‘rebooted’.
“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.”
Impacts of the magic mushroom compound psilocybin on the brain
The research team performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on 16 of the 19 patients before and after the treatment.
According to the researchers, the scans showed a reduction in cerebral blood flow towards the temporal cortex, and in particular, the amygdala. This decrease was related to a decrease in depressive symptoms.
“Through collecting these imaging data we have been able to provide a window into the after effects of psilocybin treatment in the brains of patients with chronic depression,” Dr Carhart-Harris added.
“Based on what we know from various brain imaging studies with psychedelics, as well as taking heed of what people say about their experiences, it may be that psychedelics do indeed ‘reset’ the brain networks associated with depression, effectively enabling them to be lifted from the depressed state.”
The first study of its kind with depressed patients
The researchers reported that “[t]hese data fill an important knowledge gap regarding the post-treatment brain effects of psilocybin, and are the first in depressed patients.”
It’s important to note that the results of this study doesn’t necessarily mean that magic mushrooms will cure depression. Rather, the results demonstrate that further research into the impact of psychedelics on the brain is needed.
What other research studies do you know about on the impact of psychedelics on the brain? Let us know in the comments and we’ll update this article.