Depression is a widespread mental health condition affecting millions of individuals globally, and while various treatments are available, not all people respond well to them. In recent years there has been a surge in interest around the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelic substances such as psilocybin or LSD. Despite these substances being considered illegal in most parts of the world, there are studies which suggest that they could have a positive impact on the brain leading to improvements in mood and other aspects of mental health.
Let's dive into the world of medical psilocybin research!
Several recent studies published by The New England Journal of Medicine and Nature Medicine have revealed that psilocybin, the active compound found in "magic mushrooms" can help treat depression. This hallucinogen is responsible for altering the brain's response to a chemical called serotonin, which carries messages between the nerve cells in your brain and body.
According to previous studies, using functional MRI (fMRI) brain scanning, researchers found that psilocybin has the ability to reduce activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for regulating cognitive functions such as awareness, inhibitory control, habits, and memory. By reducing the activity in this area, psilocybin could potentially have the capability to remove internal constraints and help individuals shift towards an increasingly open minded understanding of the environment surrounding them.
Depression is typically characterised by rumination, a state of negative reflections, particularly about yourself. Research shows that individuals with greater levels of negative rumination tend to show increased brain activity compared with other networks at rest.
Research findings indicate that a single dose of psilocybin can increase connectivity between different networks in the brain, which are usually diminished in individuals with severe depression, as revealed by fMRI measures taken one day after psilocybin administration.
New Evidence has surged
This double-blind randomised controlled trial, the most compelling evidence so far, revealed that people taking psilocybin showed a significant increase in connectivity between brain networks compared to those taking the antidepressant drug escitalopram. In contrast, the brains of those taking escitalopram showed no change in connectivity between the default mode and other brain networks six weeks after treatment started.
Researchers believe that the observed effect may be due to psilocybin having more concentrated action on receptors in the brain than escitalopram, which could be why psilocybin has a more rapid onset of antidepressant effect.The study suggests that activating these receptors could alter brian network connectivity, but the specific mechanisms of this effect are yet to be fully understood.
Additionally, it showed that both groups reported improvements in their symptoms six weeks after commencing treatment.
“Nevertheless, psilocybin had the greatest effect on overall mental wellbeing”
Nevertheless, psilocybin had the greatest effect on overall mental wellbeing, and a greater proportion of patients treated with psilocybin showed a positive clinical response compared with those treated with escitalopram. More patients in the psilocybin group were also still in remission at six weeks, and although some patients still do not respond to psilocybin, or relapse after treatment, the studies provide promising results that bring us closer to expanding the available treatment options for patients with depression.
It is important to note that the success of psilocybin treatment is heavily dependent on the environment in which it is taken and that patients of these studies were carefully selected for psilocybin-assisted therapy based on their history to avoid the risk of psychosis and other possible adverse effects.
Will psilocybin come to replace the era of traditional antidepressants?
The studies mentioned above provide a glimpse of hope for the future of depression treatment with psilocybin and the possibility of expanding options for patients with depression.
Of course, while the therapeutic potential of psilocybin for depression appears to be promising, it is unlikely that it will completely replace traditional antidepressant medications. Instead, it can offer an alternative treatment choice for those who have not attained satisfactory results, or unwanted side effects, from standard treatments.
To establish the safety and efficiency of psilocybin as a treatment option for depression, further research is needed with larger and more diverse populations. Additionally, identifying optimal dosing regimens and ingestion methods will be crucial in determining psilocybin effectiveness for treating depression.
All-in-all, the future of psilocybin as a method to help treat depression is very interesting and something to keep an eye out for.
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