Magic mushrooms has long been known for their hallucinogenic effects. They can profoundly change the way a person experiences the world. In a 2017 study, researchers found evidence showing that psilocybin in psychedelic mushrooms may indeed give a "higher state of consciousness."
"I believe that psychedelics hold a potential to cure deep psychological wounds, and I believe that by investigating their neuropsychopharmacological mechanism, we can learn to understand this potential," said Leor Roseman, from Imperial College London.
Now, a new study published in the scientific journal Neuropharmacology in December 2017 has shown that psilocybin-assisted therapy can aid treatment-resistant depression by reviving the brain's emotional responsiveness.
The research involved 20 individuals suffering from major depression who received two psilocybin-assisted therapy sessions. Roseman and colleagues found that the patients had increased neural responses a day after receiving therapy.
Before the first session and the morning after the second session, the participants received fMRI brain scans while viewing images of faces with happy, fearful, and neutral expressions.
Roseman and colleagues were particularly interested in the amygdala, the part of the brain that plays a crucial role in emotional behaviors, which include fear. They want to know the impact of psilocybin on amygdala and how the substance can affect the participant's depression.
Researchers found that after receiving psilocybin-assisted therapy sessions, majority of the participants claimed improvements in their depressive symptoms. The researchers also observed increased activity in the right amygdala and increased responses of the participants to both fearful and happy faces after treatment.
Interestingly, the increased amygdala responses to fearful expressions were linked to clinical improvements in depressive symptoms a week after the treatment.
The findings show that while psilocybin may help treat depression, it works differently when compared with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (or SSRIs), the most commonly prescribed form of antidepressant.
SSRI increases levels of serotonin, deficiency of which is associated with depression, but the drug is known to cause emotional numbing. The findings show that psilocybin works by doing the opposite: it enhances emotional receptivity.
"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 researchers wrote in their study.
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