A study has discovered that psilocybin, a psychedelic substance present in magic mushrooms, aids in "opening up" the brains of depressed individuals even weeks after use.
This research was conducted by the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London using brain scans from nearly 60 patients who were receiving treatment for depression. The study's authors think they may have figured out how psilocybin influences the brain to produce therapeutic effects.
A number of psychedelic substances, including psilocybin, are being studied as potential treatments for mental illnesses. In several studies, a synthetic version of the medication was tested for its efficacy in treating patients with anxiety and depression.
According to the latest findings, which were compiled from two separate studies, patients who responded to psilocybin-assisted therapy exhibited increased brain connectivity not just during treatment but also for up to three weeks afterward.
This "opening up" effect was linked to the participants' self-reported reductions in depression.
It appears the psychedelic treats depression differently than a traditional antidepressant called escitalopram because similar changes in brain connectivity were not observed in people taking that medication.
The team claims that the results, which were replicated in two studies and were published today in the journal Nature Medicine, represent a positive development for psilocybin therapy.
They say that because depression can cause rigid and constrained patterns of brain activity, psilocybin may be able to help the brain escape this impasse in a way that conventional treatments are unable to.
The drug development expert stated that although more data from ongoing clinical trials was required to prove the medication's efficacy, preliminary findings were encouraging.
The treatment pathway, according to the scientist, operates entirely differently from how antidepressants do.