News — 01 December 2017
Magic mushrooms to treat depression

New studies are showing that psychedelic ‘magicmushrooms’ can effectively relieve depression by resetting key brain circuits. Researchers at the Imperial College London used psilocybin – the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms – to treat patients with depression, and the results were incredibly positive. Images of the patients’ brains revealed changes in the areas associated with depressive symptoms, and the participants all reported significant benefits that lasted up to five weeks after treatment.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris who led the study said: “We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin. It seems to give them the temporary ‘kickstart’ they need to break out of their depressive states.” All of thepatients had previously failed to respond to conventional treatments for depression. They were given just two doses of psilocybin over a two week period, and immediately following the treatments all of the patients reported a significant decrease in depressive symptoms. They experienced improvements in mood, relief from stress, and a general feeling of being ‘re-started’. MRI imaging showed reduced blood flow to areas of the brain that are associated with processing emotional responses, stress and fear.

It is difficult to get approval for research involving psychedelic drugs due to the fact that they are illegal in most countries. However, progress is being made, and last year two studies in the US showed that a single dose of psilocybin could lift the anxiety and depression of people with advanced cancer, and the effects lasted for over six months. Professor David Nutt, the senior author of the Imperial Collegere search, said: “Larger studies are needed to see if this positive effect can be reproduced in more patients. But these initial findings are exciting, and they provide us with a promising new treatment avenue to explore.”

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