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Eating magic mushrooms can treat depression, study finds

The drug 'resets' the brain circuits to immediately improve moods

Andrew Griffin
Friday 13 October 2017 09:49 BST
Boxes containing magic mushrooms are displayed at a coffee and smart shop in Rotterdam
Boxes containing magic mushrooms are displayed at a coffee and smart shop in Rotterdam (Reuters/Jerry Lampen)

Eating magic mushrooms can help treat depression.

That's according to a new study that found that the drug psilocybin, found in mushrooms, can "reset" the brain's circuits and help ease symptoms.

Scientists got special permission to give the mushrooms to 19 people who had not been helped by traditional treatments. They said their mood was lifted immediately, and that in some cases the effect would last as long as five weeks.

Brain scans showed that the neural circuits in the brain had been reset, pushing them out of their depressive states, the scientists found.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial College London, said: "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.

"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'."

The drug may be giving the patients the "kick start" they need to break out of their depressive states, he said.

Similar brain effects have been seen in patients undergoing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a controversial treatment that triggers temporary seizures with electric shocks.

Magic mushrooms containing psilocybin and its derivative psilocin can cause hallucinations, changes in perception and an altered sense of time.

Both chemicals are classified as illegal Class A drugs in the UK, as are the mushrooms themselves.

In the study, reported in the journal Scientific Reports, patients with treatment-resistant depression were given a 10mg and 25mg doses of psilocybin seven days apart.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans showed reduced activity in certain parts of the brain after taking the drug. They included the amygdala, a small almond-shaped region known to be involved in processing emotional responses, stress and fear.

Psilocybin also induced increased stability in another brain network previously linked to depression.

The scientists warned that despite the encouraging results people with depression should not attempt to self-medicate with psychoactive drugs.

They pointed out that the study provided a special therapeutic setting for the "drug experience" to protect participants from potentially harmful effects.

A new trial from the team set to start early next year will test psilocybin against a leading antidepressant in a group of patients.

Professor David Nutt, director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit at Imperial, said: "Larger studies are needed to see if this positive effect can be reproduced in more patients. But these initial findings are exciting and provide another treatment avenue to explore."

The scientists obtained a special licence from the Home Office to conduct the research.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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