The magic mushroom drug psilocybin can 'reboot' the brain of depressed patients

The magic mushroom drug psilocybin can 'reboot' the brain of depressed patients

The magic mushroom drug psilocybin can 'reboot' the brain of depressed patients

Psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound found in magic mushrooms, may help re-set the activity of neural circuits in the brain that are involved in depression.

The researchers monitored brain activity in the patients, and images taken before and after treatment showed changes that were associated with lasting reductions in symptoms.

The findings come from a study in which researchers from Imperial College London used psilocybin - the psychoactive compound that occurs naturally in magic mushrooms - to treat a small number of patients with depression in whom conventional treatment had failed.

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, who heads psychedelic research at Imperial and was the leader of the study, said in the statement: "Several of our patients described feeling "reset" after the treatment and often used computer analogies". Also, as they noted in the study, a sample size of 19 people is not almost enough to validate an effective treatment method, especially since there was no control group with which to compare the effects of psilocybin. For example, one said he felt like his brain had been "defragged" like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt "rebooted".

In clinical trials over the years, psychedelics such as mushrooms have shown to be promising in treating depression and addictions, The Guardian reports.

The drug may be giving the patients the "kick start" they need to break out of their depressive states, he said. "Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy".

In the study, reported in the journal Scientific Reports, patients with treatment-resistant depression were given a 10mg and 25mg doses of psilocybin seven days apart.

The scientists then used two brain imaging methods to measure changes in blood flow and in the crosstalk between brain regions. They said their mood was lifted immediately, and that in some cases the effect would last as long as five weeks. MRI imaging revealed reduced blood flow in the amygdala, the part of the brain known to process emotional responses, fear and stress.

Psilocybin also induced increased stability in another brain network previously linked to depression. They add that future studies will include more robust designs and now plan to test psilocybin against a leading antidepressant in a trial set to start early next year.

Carhart-Harris's team warned that people should not attempt to self-medicate with psychedelic drugs.

Professor David Nutt, Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology and director of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit in the Division of Brain Sciences, and senior author of the paper, added: "Larger studies are needed to see if this positive effect can be reproduced in more patients. But these initial findings are exciting and provide another treatment avenue to explore".

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