A group of British researchers added yet another study to the growing list of evidence that psychedelic mushrooms might be an effective tool in treating severe depression.
Published in the Neuropharmacology journal, the study cited research that "patients with depression show heightened amygdala responses to fearful faces" and tested whether "amygdala responses to emotional faces would be altered post-treatment with psilocybin." The amygdala is the integrative center for emotions and emotional behavior in the brain, and psilocybin is the psychoactive compound in shrooms.
Twenty individuals diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression (moderate to severe) took part in the study, which involved psychological support and two psilocybin dosing sessions. The 19 participants who completed the study underwent brain scans one week before the first session and again after the second dosing session. As the scanners focused on the amygdala, the participants were shown pictures of faces that displayed different expressions: happy, fearful and neutral.
The results? First, the study found that the shrooms-and-therapy treatment delivered "rapid and enduring improvements" in the participants' depressive symptoms. Depressed individuals are often ambivalent to the emotions of others, but the scans showed activity in the amygdala (i.e., increased emotional responses) upon seeing the happy, fearful and neutral faces, which was "predictive of clinical improvements." In fact, the shrooms appeared to be more effective than selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
"Psilocybin with psychological support was associated with increased amygdala responses to emotional stimuli, an opposite effect to previous findings with SSRIs," the authors wrote. "This suggests fundamental differences in these treatments' therapeutic actions, with SSRIs mitigating negative emotions and psilocybin allowing patients to confront and work through them."
The researchers then double-downed on shrooms.
"Based on the present results," the study continued, "we propose that psilocybin with psychological support is a treatment approach that potentially revives emotional responsiveness in depression, enabling patients to reconnect with their emotions."
Coincidentally, the same journal published another study on psychedelics in 2017 and noted a long history of findings that suggested therapeutic benefits.
"Pre-prohibition studies in this area were sub-optimal, although a recent systematic review in unipolar mood disorder and a meta-analysis in alcoholism have both suggested efficacy, [and] the incidence of serious adverse events appears to be low," wrote the authors, one of whom, Professor David Nutt, contributed to both studies. "Since 2006, there have been several pilot trials and randomized controlled trials using psychedelics (mostly psilocybin) in various non-psychotic psychiatric disorders. These have provided encouraging results that provide initial evidence of safety and efficacy."
The latter study added, "Psychedelics have a long history of use and yet they attract emotive and often polarized opinions in modern Western society. History suggests they may have a place in the treatment of refractory neurotic disorders, particularly depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, addictions and in the psychological challenges associated with death and dying."