The psychoactive compound in “magic-mushrooms” may help with treatment-resistant depression

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A new study suggests the key ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms may help people with treatment-resistant depression, according to a report published in the journal Scientific Reports.

In the small study, psilocybin – the psychoactive compound found in so-called “magic mushrooms” – helped improve depression symptoms nineteen of 20 depression patients for up to five weeks after their treatment.

Notably, the participants had not responded to previous traditional depression treatments.

“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 study leader Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial College London.

While the findings are interesting and could potentially lead to future treatment methods, Carhart-Harris emphasizes that people should not try to self-medicate with psychoactive mushrooms. He notes that the study was very small and did not include a comparison group of participants who received a placebo or other psilocybin substitute.

Still, the team says that their findings are backed by before-and-after brain scans showing that psilocybin might “reset” regions of the brain that could facilitate depression.

“Several of our patients described feeling ‘reset’ after the treatment and often used computer analogies,” Carhart-Harris explained in a college news release. One said he felt like his brain had been “defragged” like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt “rebooted,” the researcher added.

“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,” Carhart-Harris said.

The team agrees that future studies are needed to see if the positive effect can be safely replicated in larger groups. However, they believe the initial findings provide evidence that is worthy of being further explored.

For now, the group of researchers is planning a follow-up trial which will compare the psychoactive compound against a leading antidepressant.

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