News study claims magic mushrooms can 'reboot' brain in depressed people

News study claims magic mushrooms can 'reboot' brain in depressed people

When you think of people who use magic mushrooms, it'd be fair to say that the common depiction would be a pretty flamboyant character.

You think of a tie-dye t shirt, some dreadlocks maybe, and 100% someone that knows way too many conspiracy theories regarding why drugs are illegal and how drinking pints is actually more dangerous. However, while we tend to think of magic mushrooms mainly being a recreational psychedelic drug, it turns out they may have some serious benefits.

According the a new study into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics, magic mushrooms could effectively "reset" the activity of the brain circuits known to play a key role in depression.

In a number of clinical trials across the last decade, psychedelics have shown promising results in terms of acting as a treatment for those suffering from depression and addiction. Imperial College London researchers used psilocybin - a compound that occurs in magic mushrooms naturally - to treat a number of patients who had been suffering from depression, monitoring their brain functions before and after taking the compound.

In the images produced of their brains during the experiment, there was evidence of activity that was associated with marked and lasting reductions in the depressive symptoms that participants were suffering from. Those who took place in the testing said that they felt the benefits of the trial for up to five weeks after treatment.

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."

Immediately after following the treatment, patients reported a decrease in their depressive symptoms, with them citing an improvement in their mood and stress relief.

MRI imaging of the brain revealed that there was reduced blood flow in areas of the brain, including the amygdala, a region known to be involved in the procession of emotional responses such as stress and fear.

The research isn't the first of its kind, last year two US studies showed that a single dose of psilocybin could lift anxiety and depression symptoms within cancer patients for six months or even longer.

The researchers from Imperial College acknowledge that the significance of their experiment is limited, citing reasons such as their small sample size and the absence of a placebo group for comparison. They also stress that patients shouldn't attempt to self-medicate, obviously.

Professor David Nutt, senior author of the paper and director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit in the division of brain sciences, said: "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."

The authors now plan to test psilocybin against a leading antidepressant in a trial that is set to start early next year.

It's pretty interesting stuff it must be said. Although, if you are struggling from depression, I highly recommend you seek help before you start taking magic mushrooms.