Shrooms Improve Emotional Processing

By David Jenison on January 15, 2018

Do you believe in magic? Well, several researchers in London certainly believe in magic mushrooms. 

Eight researchers across four colleges and universities collaborated on a study "to investigate whether psilocybin, recently shown to rapidly improve mood in treatment-resistant depression, alters patients' emotional processing biases." Seventeen patients with treatment-resistant depression completed an emotional face recognition task to establish a baseline, and then after two doses of psilocybin (the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms) and psychological therapy sessions, the patients completed the task again one month later. A 16-person control group did the same, minus the mushroom trip. 

The researchers published their findings in Psychopharmacology: "At baseline, patients were slower at recognizing facial emotions compared with controls. After psilocybin, this difference was remediated. Emotion recognition was faster at follow-up compared with baseline in patients but not controls."

In other words, two groups of severely depressed patients were tested twice, and the only test that showed normal processing came from the patients treated with psilocybin as part of their comprehensive care. Furthermore, the psilocybin-treated group also experienced a reduction in anhedonia, i.e., an inability to feel pleasure from normally pleasurable experiences.  

For context, processing facial emotions appears connected to mental health. Per a 2010 study in the PLOS One journal, "Recognition of others' emotions is an important aspect of interpersonal communication. In major depression, a significant emotion recognition impairment has been reported."

The British researchers concluded, "Psilocybin with psychological support appears to improve processing of emotional faces in treatment-resistant depression, and this correlates with reduced anhedonia."

The finding is significant because the patients did not respond to other forms of treatment. Psilocybin, when paired with traditional therapies, provided the only positive breakthrough. 

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