A psychoactive compound occuring naturally in "magic mushrooms" may help reduce symptoms of depression as well as "reset" brain activity in affected patients, a study has shown. Two doses of psilocybin were effective in these patients five weeks following the treatment.
Numerous depressed patients likened the treatment to having their brains "rebooted" or "reset".
The research team does admit that the test group was rather small, however, and that no control group was used.
"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 ...
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The subjects also underwent brain imaging, which measured changes in blood flow and signals transmitted between brain regions. Researchers also performed fMRI scans on the participants' brains before and after the treatment and found evidence of immediate and sustained antidepressant effects. Further assessments through brain scans showed physical changes as well when comparing imaging before and after the treatment.
For the study, the researchers gave 20 patients who had resisted other forms of treatment two doses of psilocybin (10mg and 25mg).
Prof Mitul Mehta, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said: "What is impressive about these preliminary findings is that brain changes occurred in the networks we know are involved in depression, after just a single dose of psilocybin".
The drug may be giving the patients the "kick start" they need to break out of their depressive states, he said.
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Immediately following treatment with psilocybin, patients reported a decrease in depressive symptoms - corresponding with anecdotal reports of an "after-glow" effect characterised by improvements in mood and stress relief.
They say that this sort of approach could pave the way for a new way of treating people, without the need to use potentially harmful medication on a daily basis.
Dr Stephen Ross, director of addiction psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, who led a similar study past year, told the Guardian: "Our brains are hard-wired to have these kinds of experiences - these alterations of consciousness".
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