First evidence that “magic mushrooms” may be better than antidepressants

They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but it does magic does.

Magic mushrooms have a “liberating effect” on the depressed mind, according to new published research in the journal Nature Medicine Monday exploring how the psychedelic compound psilocybin improves mood compared to traditional drugs and why it seems to work so much better.

“For the first time, we’re finding that psilocybin works differently than traditional antidepressants — it makes the brain more flexible and fluid and less locked into the negative thought patterns associated with depression,” said Dr. David Nutt, Director of the London Imperial Center for Psychedelic Research in an opinion to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Head scans of several dozen volunteers with depression showed that, unlike a traditional antidepressant — in this case Lexapro — psilocybin was more effective at disrupting communication in regions of the brain associated with depression while increasing the number of new neuronal connections in too little used areas increased .

In other words, the brain has found ways to steer itself away from bad thoughts.

“In previous studies, we had seen a similar effect in the brain when people were scanned while taking a psychedelic, but here we’re seeing it weeks after treatment for depression,” said senior author Robin Carhart-Harris, Ph.D. the former head of Imperials who now runs the Department of Neuroscape Psychedelics at the University of California, San Francisco.

Half of the study patients had drug-resistant depression and knew they would be given psilocybin as an alternative. The other half of the pool, who were less severely depressed, didn’t know whether they would be given psilocybin or the placebo Lexapro.

After treatment, which included talk therapy, the researchers also reported that the participants were outspoken and less “emotionally avoidant” and also saw improvements in their cognitive function. The positive effects of psilocybin lasted until the end of the study, three weeks after a second dose of psilocybin. The same couldn’t be said for Lexapro.

These observations coupled with their fMRI scans suggest the humble mushroom could offer a new avenue for those struggling to break free from depression.

Carhart-Harris hopes to conduct further research to find out how long the positive changes last. “We know that some people relapse, and after a while their brains may revert to the rigid patterns of activity that we see in depression.”

Their findings could have implications across the mental health field.

“An exciting implication of our findings is that we have uncovered a fundamental mechanism by which psychedelic therapy works not only for depression but also for other mental illnesses such as anorexia or addiction,” added Carhart-Harris. “We now have to test whether this is the case, and if so, then we have found something important.” First evidence that “magic mushrooms” may be better than antidepressants


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