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Two small imaging studies on how psychedelic mushrooms affect brain function suggest that the ‘shrooms might have promise as an antidepressant.
In the first study 30 people had psilocybin — the active component of magic mushrooms — infused into their blood while they underwent an MRI scan that measured brain activity. Psilocybin reduced activity in “hub” regions of the brain, areas of the brain that are most densely connected to other parts. The intensity of the psychedelic experience correlated with decreases in activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the posterior cingulated cortex (PCC).
The mPFC is hyperactive in people who have depression. In the second study 10 people reported that their recollections of memories were more vivid after taking psilocybin than after taking a placebo. Two weeks later when the study participants rated their mood, greater vividness of recollection was associated with a greater sense of wellbeing.
“Previous studies have suggested that psilocybin can improve people’s sense of emotional wellbeing and even reduce depression in people with anxiety,” says lead author Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, from the Imperial College London. “This is consistent with our finding that psilocybin decreased mPFC activity, as many effective depression treatment do…ours was only a small study, be we are interested in exploring psilocybin’s potential as a therapeutic tool.”