Researchers from the Imperial College in London have found some evidence that might suggest that psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms, can be useful in treating depression.
The study that was published in Scientific Reports, focused on 19 patients, all of which had some previous experimentation with treatment-resistant depression.
Each of those 19 patients showed reduced depressive symptoms after just a week from when the treatment began. While these findings are exciting, this was just a preliminary study on a rather small group of people and no control sample.
More importantly, it doesn’t mean that magic mushrooms cure depression.Lead author and head of psychedelic research at Imperial Dr. Robin Carhart-Hariis 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.”
Patients in the conducted study were given two doses of psilocybin. The first dose being 10 mg was given immediately and the second one, which was 25 mg, was given a week after the initial dose.
The patients reported how they felt by completing clinical questionnaires.
“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’” said Dr. Robin.
“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 team performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans on 16 out of the 19 patients, before and after the treatment. The scans indicated that there was a reduction in the cerebral blood flowing towards the temporal cortex, particularly the amygdala.
The decrease in blood flow to the amygdala was related to the decrease in depressive symptoms. The MRI scans also showed there was increased stability in another brain network linked with depression.
“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. Robin 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.”
Due to the encouraging results, the team has plans to conduct a comparative trial in order to test the effects of psilocybin against a leading antidepressant treatment. This is scheduled to start next year.