For many people who are severely depressed, they don’t really want to ‘get happy’ as much as they just want their brains to return to a normal, neutral state.
And according to a new study from Imperial College London, so-called “magic mushrooms” could help make that possible.
In a recent trial, Imperial researchers gave 20 subjects with treatment-resistant depression two doses of psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms. They first received a dose of 10 mg and a week later they received a dose of 25 mg. Nineteen of those people had undergone brain scans immediately before the first dose was administered, and then again after the second, larger dose was given.
When those Before and After scans were compared, it was found that the psilocybin reduced blood flow in areas of the brain such as the amygdala, which is involved in processing emotional responses, stress, and anxiety. Another brain network, previously associated with depression, showed increased stability.
Perhaps even more telling, the subjects also completed questionnaires about their depressive symptoms after treatment. They reported not only a decrease in symptoms, but also a feeling that their brains had been reset like a computer. These feelings lasted for up to five weeks after the second dose.
“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,” said study leader Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris.
Psilocybin can give these individuals the temporary ‘kickstart’ they need to break out of their depressed state and these imaging results support a ‘reset’ analogy for the time being.
The research team does admit that the test group was quite small and that no control group was used. To this end, a larger trial is planned, comparing the effects of psilocybin with those of a leading antidepressant. The scientists also warn that the research is still in its infancy and that people suffering from depression should not try to self-medicate with mushrooms.