- Psilocybin is a psychoactive compound that naturally occurs in magic mushrooms, used mainly as a recreational drug since prehistoric times
- Current study shows that magic mushrooms could reset the brain network in depressed patients and elevate mood in patients who fail to respond to standard treatments
magic mushrooms may be capable of resetting the brain network in chronically
depressed persons and lift their mood, according to a recent study conducted by
a team of scientists at the Imperial College London. The findings
of the study led by Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, Head of Psychedelic Research at
Imperial, appear in the journal Scientific Reports in October 2017.
Magic Mushrooms in Treatment of Resistant DepressionDepression is a common cause of disability worldwide. According to the WHO, at least 350 million persons worldwide are living with depression and the numbers can only increase.
The standard treatment for depression includes psychotherapy and/or antidepressant medications and fortunately most people respond to treatments and make a recovery sooner or later. However, some patients do not respond to standard therapies and are associated with serious consequences including suicide.
Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, Head of Psychedelic Research at Imperial, who led the study, 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."
"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'. 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."
Testing Magic Mushrooms in Depressed PatientsThe current study is the first using psilocybin for depression.
- Twenty patients with treatment-resistant form of depression were given two doses of psilocybin (10 mg and 25 mg), with a gap of a week between the two doses.
- Nineteen patients underwent initial brain imaging before the treatment and then a second scan one day after the high dose treatment. Carhart-Harris and his team employed two main brain imaging methods to measure changes in blood flow and the crosstalk between brain regions.
- The patients were provided questionnaires to complete to give feedback about their depressive symptoms.
The notable observations of the study included the following
- Immediately following treatment with psilocybin, patients reported a reduction in depressive symptoms shown by improvement and elevation of mood and relief of stress and "after-glow" effect.
- Functional MRI imaging revealed decreased blood flow in certain areas of the brain, including the amygdala, a small, almond-shaped region of the brain associated with emotional responses such as stress and fear.
- Another brain network, earlier linked to psilocybin's immediate effects as well as to depression itself was found to be more stable following the treatment.
Dr Carhart-Harris explained: "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. 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.
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."
Future PlansThe team plans to start a larger trial early next year to compare the effects of psilocybin with a leading antidepressant.
In conclusion, the research team is highly encouraged and excited by their initial findings, but are quick to add that depressed patients should not attempt to self-medicate with psilocybin as the consequences could be serious.
Coping with DepressionDepression is a common mood disorder that affects how one thinks and feels. It is characterized by sadness, low mood, loss of interest in activities enjoyed earlier, feeling worthless, tiredness, sleep disturbances, social withdrawal, and suicidal ideas in extreme cases.
It is important to recognize the symptoms and signs early and seek urgent medical attention. It is important to have coping mechanisms to prevent or reduce the effects of depression. These include the following
- Do not neglect warning signs or symptoms. Seek early medical treatment
- Learn about your condition and the resources available
- Avail social support of friends and family and join a support group to share and gain from others experiences
- Eat healthy and sleep well. Lack of sleep makes depression worse
- Exercise regularly as exercise has been found to increase naturally produced mood elevating hormones in the body
- Practice stress relief and relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga
- Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs
- Find a good therapist to learn ways to relax and dispel negative thoughts and feelings
- Be regular with your medications
- Depression Treatment - (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-treatment.htm)