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A new study has shown how magic mushrooms can reset the brains of depressed patients. Researchers from London’s Imperial College used psilocybin, the psychoactive component of ‘magic mushrooms,’ to treat a small number of participants with depression for whom conventional treatment have failed.

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Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the paper describes the benefits of treatment as reported by study participants. Their results suggest that the psychedelic compound may effectively reset the activity of some of the key brain circuits that are known to play a role in depression.

Researchers compared brain scans of patients taken before and one day after  treatment, and found changes in brain activity that were associated with marked and lasting reductions in depressive symptoms.

However, researchers admit more work needs to be done, particularly given the limitations of their study, which had a small sample size and lacked a control group to contrast with the patients receiving the psychoactive compound.

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, the Head of Psychedelic Research at Imperial College and lead author of 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.

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“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.

The Study

20 patients with treatment-resistant depression were given two doses of psilocybin, 10 mg and 25 mg, with the second dose given a week after the first.

19 of the 20 participants underwent brain-imaging prior to the treatment, and then did so again a day after the higher dose treatment. The research team used two types of brain imaging software to measure changes in blood flow and crosstalk between brain regions. Patients also completed questionnaires about their depressive symptoms before and after treatment.

Immediately after treatment, patients reported a decrease in depressive symptoms which corresponded with anecdotal reports of an ‘after-glow’ effect, characterized by improved mood and stress relief.

MRI imaging revealed reduced blood flow in several areas of the brain, including the amygdala, a small region of the brain responsible for processing emotional responses such as stress and fear.

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.

Other Research

Despite the study’s limitations, it’s not the first of its kind to examine the use of psilocybin for treatment of depression. John Hopkins University and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) have also published studies with very promising results.

It is so great to see more and more research emerging on the potential health benefits of psychedelics. Believe it or not, there was a tremendous amount of research being done on psychedelics in the 1960s, spearheaded by Timothy Leary. These drugs became widespread for a time, but thanks to the “War on Drugs” in the 1970s, were then made illegal — despite their promising therapeutic potential — and all of the research stopped.

Fortunately, the tide is turning again, and people are realizing that, not only are these substances non-addictive, when used in a controlled setting in their pure form, they can help people tap into an observer’s point of view into their lives.

Are Psychedelic Substances the New Cannabis?

If you would have asked me five years ago, I would never have imagined that cannabis would become legal, and so quickly. I realize that it is still illegal in many states and countries around the world, but the fact that it is legal at all, anywhere, is extremely inspiring. It shows that, with enough awareness and perseverance, change can happen. Cannabis is now legal for recreational use in eight states, and plans to have it legalized across Canada will take effect next year.

The more research that is conducted on other psychedelic substances, the more we will see the strict laws that govern them loosen. The state of Oregon has recently decriminalized many substances, psychedelics included, for example, and this is only the beginning.

Much Love

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