Psilocybin mushrooms are also known as psychedelic mushrooms, magic mushrooms, or - more coloquially - 'shrooms.' Researchers find that the psychoactive compound in mushrooms may be helpful for patients with severe depression who did not respond to conventional therapy. Infamous as magic mushrooms, the psychedelic drug has been the subject of studies all over the world lately, examining both its medicinal capabilities as well as its relative safety compared to other narcotics.
In the latest trial, the first with psilocybin in depression, 20 patients with a treatment-resistant form of the disorder were given two doses of psilocybin (10 mg and 25 mg), with the second dose a week after the first.
"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", Dr. Carhart-Harris continues.
Immediately after receiving the doses, the patients said they felt a decrease in depressive symptoms, which MRI scans of their brains revealed to have been due to a reduce in blood flow to areas involved in handling emotional responses, stress, and fear. After 5 weeks, 12 of the 19 patients showed lasting benefits and were therefore deemed to be "responsive" to the treatment.
"Several of our patients", Dr. Carhart-Harris explains, "described feeling "reset" after the treatment and often used computer analogies".
They also found increased stability in another brain network, previously linked to psilocybin's immediate effects as well as to depression itself. "For example, one said he felt like his brain had been "defragged" like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt 'rebooted'". They reported consciousness-expanding effects and an activation of brain regions typically channeled during the dream state.
However, the researchers also note the limitations of their study. Researchers advise patients not to self-medicate with magic mushrooms since there's always the risk of making things worse.
"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".
Their study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports on Friday, highlights how psilocybin gave patients a "kick start" in fighting clinical depression.