Scientists at Imperial College London tested the effects of magic mushrooms in the brain of people diagnosed with depression, for whom conventional drugs have not worked. They found that small doses of psilocybin, the active component in magic mushrooms, helped patients “reset” their brains and feel better afterward.

Prior studies have looked at the effects of psychedelics while on the drugs but the new research, published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports, also focused on the results before and after the patients were exposed to psilocybin.

Magic mushrooms, Mushrooms depression treatment
Psilocybin. Image credit: Psychedelic Times

Twenty study participants who qualified for the study were given the drug, which naturally occurs in magic mushrooms. They first took a 10mg dose and then a 25mg dose after one week.

Depressive symptoms declined in all patients a week after the second dose, and 47 percent of them still felt better five weeks later. The team of researchers confirmed these self-reports by using MRI scans and found that, after treatment, there was less blood flow in the amygdala, the part of the brain that allows emotion processing. In other words, the mushrooms helped stabilize depression-related brain activity.

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, who leads psychedelic research at the Imperial College London, said it is the first time psilocybin has been linked to changes in brain activity in people who have been diagnosed with depression, as reported by the Miami Herald.

Dr. Carhart-Harris described the treatment as a “kick start” out of the condition because several of the study participants used computer analogies.

Whereas brain scans while on drugs have shown less connectivity between the different parts of the brain – which makes people feel as if they have lost their sense of self –, the team at Imperial College London discovered that there is, in fact, more integration after the effects of psychedelics. This suggests that the drugs break down the pattern and reset the brain so a new one can start.

The lead author of the study warned that people shouldn’t try taking magic mushrooms on their own. The researchers gave small doses in carefully controlled environments because the treatment would have been harmful to mental health if they had just given away psilocybin for the patients to try them at home.

Because this research is at an early stage with a few participants and without a control group, Dr. Carhart-Harris recommends depressed people to wait until more conclusive studies come out.

The results the team at Imperial College London have found so far helped them better understand the effects of psychedelics on the brain before and after exposure, thus clearing the path to test psilocybin versus antidepressants in 2018.

Illegal drugs might be the key

This research is the latest that has suggested small doses of illegal drugs can help treat depression. A 2015 study led by Professor David Nutt of the Imperial College and Amanda Feilding from the Beckley Foundation revealed that LSD could contribute to a decrease of depression symptoms.

Furthermore, author Ayelet Waldman detailed in a book titled “A Really Good Day” how microdoses of LSD helped her stabilize her mood. Small amounts of the drug every three days allowed her to live “really good” days by helping her deal with mental health problems, as she told The Atlantic

However, it is hard to know how potent any dose of LSD can be, according to a report by The New York Times. This means that a person could take much more than they can handle by thinking it is just a little dose.

Many experts in the medical community consider the psychoactive drug as too strong and long-lasting, as reported by NBC News. Further research is needed to find out whether such drugs can do more good than harm.

Source: The Verge