Psilocybin – the active part of magic mushrooms — can help reduce depression symptoms and reawaken the emotions, new research finds.
The stronger the ‘mystical experience’, the more the hallucinogenic drug helped.
People whose depression was most improved reported a more mystical experience, including feelings of unity and transcendence.
Although antidepressants like Prozac can often help those who are depressed, they reduce both positive and negative emotions.
Psilocybin therapy, though, may revive brain activity and help people reconnect with their emotions.
Dr Leor Roseman, the study’s first author, said:
“Our findings are important as they reveal biological changes after psilocybin therapy and, more specifically, they suggest that increased emotional processing is crucial for the treatment to work.”
The conclusions come from a small trial on 20 depressed people.
All stopped taking their antidepressants for two weeks and were given two doses of psilocybin under controlled conditions in the lab.
Afterwards, patients reported feeling emotionally re-connected.
Brain scans revealed that their response to emotional faces after taking psilocybin was increased.
Dr Roseman said:
“Having a healthy control group in future studies should be helpful in answering some of these questions.
We also want to investigate how the amygdala responds a longer time after treatment, which will inform us about longer term effects – compared to the current study, which was only looked at one day after the therapy.”
The researchers also looked at patients’ feelings about taking the hallucinogen.
Those who found it helped most reported a more ‘mystical experience’.
They were more likely to experience feelings of unity, transcending space and time, and a loss of boundaries.
The next stage for the researchers is to directly compare psilocybin with antidepressants.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do