A psychoactive compound occurring naturally in magic mushrooms may effectively treat depression by rebooting the activity of key brain circuits in patients suffering from the disorder, a new study claims.
Researchers examined patients with treatment-resistant form of the disorder with two doses of psilocybin (10 mg and 25 mg). Many of the study participants voluntarily described a sense of their brains rebooting after just two psilocybin experiences.
The researchers describe patient-reported benefits lasting up to five weeks after treatment and believe the psychedelic compound may effectively reset the activity of key brain circuits known to play a role in depression.
According to the study, the psychoactive substance found in magic mushrooms temporarily disintegrates the default mode network that is a highly connected set of brain regions which are particularly active during introspection and we are under stress.
Functional MRI imaging of patients brains before and one day after they received the drug treatment revealed changes in brain activity that were associated with marked and lasting reductions in depressive symptoms.
“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,” said Robin Carhart-Harris, Head of Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, who led the study.
“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,” Carhart-Harris said.
“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,” said Carhart-Harris.
While the initial findings are encouraging, patients with depression should not attempt to self-medicate, as things may go wrong without expert advice, the researchers warned. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.