Researchers at Imperial College, London have discovered one of the hallucinogenic compounds in magic mushrooms – psilocybin – can help reduce symptoms of treatment resistant depression.
The researchers administered the compound to patients suffering from treatment resistant depression and used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor cerebral blood flow (CBF) and blood oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC).
Psilocybin, a serotonin antagonist, was shown to reduce cerebral blood flow in the amygdala, which was associated with a reduction in the symptoms of depression. The study was conducted on 19 patients, and all 19 patients displayed a decrease in the symptoms of depression one week after treatment, with 47% of those patients meeting the team’s criteria for response 5 weeks post-treatment. After 5 weeks, 47% of patients had a more stable default-mode network.
The team found that brain activity changes after a high-dose psychedelic experience differ from those found in an acute psychedelic state, reporting that “the acute psychedelic state in healthy volunteers is characterized by modular disintegration and global integration, there are trends towards modular (re)integration and minimal effects on global integration/segregation post psilocybin for depression.”
The researchers reported “The post-treatment brain changes are different to previously observed acute effects of psilocybin and other ‘psychedelics’ yet were related to clinical outcomes.” The team believes psilocybin could function as a ‘reset’ therapeutic mechanism.
However, the study was only conducted on a small number of patients and there was no control group. The researchers plan to conduct a larger study with more rigorous controls to explore the findings of this study.
While psilocybin has helped to reduce symptoms of treatment resistant depression in this study, the researchers have warned about the use of magic mushrooms by sufferers of depression and said patients should not attempt self-medication and should not experiment with the drug. Further studies are required on psilocybin before it can be considered as a new treatment for treatment resistant depression as the method of action of psilocybin is poorly understood.
The study – Psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression: fMRI-measured brain mechanisms – has recently been published in Nature Scientific Reports.