Psilocybin is the psychoactive compound in hallucinogenic mushrooms. Humans have used this magic mushroom compound in rituals for thousands of years. The compound alters sensory perceptions and even the sense of self. Medical science has overlooked it until relatively recently, however.
Psilocybin, the Magic Mushroom Ingredient, Against Depression:
About a year ago, two research groups published their findings that psilocybin may decrease depression and anxiety in people with life-threatening cancer. (We wrote about those studies here. We also did an interview with Dr. Jeffrey Guss, one of the researchers.) Now a group of British researchers report that psilocybin may be helpful for some people with hard-to-treat depression (Rosemon et al, Neuropharmacology, online, Dec. 27, 2017).
They used functional MRI imaging to scan the brains of 20 volunteers with resistant depression. During the scans, the subjects were shown pictures of faces with happy, fearful or neutral expressions. Then they had two sessions in which they took psilocybin under controlled conditions, with people present to provide psychological support.
Following the second session the volunteers went through another functional MRI scan. The imaging concentrated on the right amygdala, the brain structure thought to be responsible for emotional processing. Many antidepressants seem to have the effect of dampening emotions. However, psilocybin seemed to increase emotional reactions.
Individuals whose brains responded more strongly to fearful faces were more likely to report improvement in their depression in the following weeks. Thirteen of the subjects were measurably less depressed one day after the experiment finished. Nine of them were still feeling less depressed five weeks later.
The investigators conclude:
“Based on the present results, we propose that psilocybin with psychological support is a treatment approach that potentially revives emotional responsiveness in depression, enabling patients to reconnect with their emotions.”
The overall results suggest that there is still work to do. After all, fewer than half of the volunteers were able to maintain a normal mood for more than a month after the treatment. The researchers acknowledge that the next step is to conduct a randomized controlled trial. They would also like to do comparative research with SSRI-type antidepressants such as fluoxetine.
You can learn more about psilocybin by listening to Show 1084: Psilocybin, Cancer & Spiritual Awakening. For more information about depression, you may want to read our Guide to Dealing with Depression.