A NEW study suggests that a hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms may be the next step in treating people with depression.
The ingredient in question is called psilocybin, which is a naturally occurring psychedelic and reportedly works by “resetting” the brain.
A team of researchers at Imperial College London conducted a small study of 19 patients who were diagnosed with depression, in which they gave them a single dose of psilocybin and monitored their brain activity before and after.
The treatment produced “rapid and sustained antidepressant effects”, with half of the patients no longer showing signs of depression, along with a change in their brain activity that lasted up to five weeks.
The scans that were performed before the drug was administered and then again a day later revealed two key areas of the brain were impacted.
The amygdala, which is responsible for the response and memory of emotions particularly fear and anxiety, became less active.
And the default mode network, which relates to multiple interconnected regions of the brain, became more stabilised.
According to Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, the head of psychedelic research at Imperial, the drug seemed to have a “resetting” effect on the brain.
“Patients were very ready to use this analogy. Without any priming they would say, ‘I’ve been reset, reborn, rebooted’, and one patient said his brain had been defragged and cleaned up,” he told BBC News.
“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.”
It is important to note that this study was conducted in a regulated environment by professionals and the research team warns people that self medicating isn’t guaranteed to return the same results.
Dr Carhart-Harris and his team have conducted similar trials before, administering 12 patients with small doses of psilocybin and recording relief from depression symptoms in eight of the original 12 subjects.
This time around they observed more closely the specific effects that the drug has on the brain.
It is acknowledged in the study that the results may be limited by the small number of subjects involved and the lack of a control group, but it is a promising start to finding a new way to help people who suffer from depression.
In order to expand their understanding on the role that this drug plays in relieving symptoms of depression they are set to start a new trial early next year comparing the effectiveness of psilocybin against a popular antidepressant.