Magic Mushrooms Can Chemically ‘Reset’ A Depressed Brain

There are many different kinds of mental illnesses that plague the human condition. Some are from physical problems, like genetics, injuries, or chemical imbalances, and some stem from psychological problems, like abuse, trauma, or stress. Regardless of where they come from, they deeply affect the well-being of those afflicted with them and are entrenched in a lot of stigmas because of society’s ignorance of their conditions or intolerance of it.

These illnesses are not without cures and treatments to mitigate their effects. As we develop a better understanding of diseases, we also develop better ways of combatting them. Recently, researchers examined the role that magic mushrooms played on depression as anecdotal tales indicate that there may be some positive that can be gleaned from it among the many issues it has.

Depression

Depression is a serious mood disorder that is common throughout the United States. It affects you both physically and mentally. It can change how you think, feel, behave, and affects your day to day habits. It can make these things feel harder, useless, and is detrimental to getting things done. Depression is more than sadness and dealing with it is harder than just trying to feel better about things. It is different for everyone and there are many different forms of it. There are postpartum depression, long-term depression, seasonal episodes of depression, and many others.

There are many different symptoms that result from depression. They include sadness, loss of interest in normal activities, loss of energy, irritability, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, and many others. The symptoms are varied among different individuals and across different age groups as depression affects humans from children to the elderly. The symptoms also depend on the severity, type, and length of depression an individual has. Most often the symptoms are remain misunderstood because individuals with depression are often undiagnosed. They remain undiagnosed because of the stigma society places on mental health issues, making it difficult to open up about these issues.

The causes of depression are not clear, but current research suggests that genetics, environmental, psychological, and biological factors play a role in the disease. There are sometimes physical changes in the brain that seen in individuals with depression. Changes in our hormones and brain chemistry can also affect depression as those things are usually in connection to the parts that control mood and behavior. There could be external factors as well like trauma, major life changes or events, physical illnesses, and even medications we take to address these things.

There is no cure for depression, but there are many medications and therapies available to individuals with depression.

Sertraline is one of the main treatment options for adults with depression. “Zoloft bottles” by Ragesoss via Wikimedia Commons is licensed under CC0

Magic Mushrooms

Psychedelic mushrooms (or psilocybin mushrooms) are a polyphyletic group of mushrooms that causes hallucinogenic effects if consumed. They might be one of the oldest drugs that humans have been using. Ancient paintings, dating back millions of years, seems to depict these mushrooms in areas of Europe and Africa. They were once used as part of rituals and ceremonies. Nowadays, they are used for recreational highs. When consumed, they cause a variety of effects that vary between individuals. These effects can be emotional, like giving a sense of euphoria or dread. They can be sensory, like seeing light differently, increased sound clarity, seeing light trails of objects and people, and even synesthesia, where they see color associated with sounds. Other effects might be changes in how they think or behave.

The global distribution of some psilocybin mushroom. “Psychoactive psilocybe distribution” by Pastelitodepapa via Wikimedia Commons is licensed under CC0

The compounds in the mushrooms that cause the “magical” effects are psilocybin, psilocin and baeocystin. The mushrooms can be found all over the world and have been used by humans all over the world. It is illegal in most places because it can be abused and lead to addiction. Despite its dubious status in society, researchers understand and continue to research any positive effects it may have for medical use.

Psilocybin and Depression

Researchers from Imperial College London studied the effects of psilocybin on 19 individuals who had treatment-resistant depression. The researchers looked at the before and after changes to the individual’s brains as they were treated with psilocybin. They gave the individuals 10 mg of psilocybin and then 25 mg one week later. The researchers found that there were decreased depressive symptoms in all 19 individuals a week after the treatments. After 5 weeks, they found that 47% of the individuals met response, which was their criteria of relatively high depressive recovery.

The authors noted that is merely a preliminary study because the group size was very small and more precise data would require a larger pool of individuals to test. The also noted that this was done with individuals who had tried other means of treatments and did not succeed. Despite the reality, Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, Head of Psychedelic Research at Imperial, who led the study, remains optimistic about the progress of psychedelic research in treating depression. In a statement made at Imperial College London, he said “We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments.”

Dr. Carhart-Harris and his team are now planning the next phase of their research. They plan on building better methods to measure the effectiveness of this sort of treatment as well as place psilocybin against leading antidepressants because that would be the area that it would compete against. Further research would also need to increase the amount of individuals being part of the study in order to have a better representative view of the population.

While these findings are important and positive, no one should use them as a reason to self-medicate. Psilocybin mushrooms can be abused and lead to dangerous circumstances with your health and the law. The best solution would be to seek medical help if you or someone you know may be depressed. With effective treatment, depression can be controlled. As more research into how and why depression works continue, the stigma around it should go away, albeit slowly.

About The Author

Mohendra Shiwnarain

Mohendra has a Bachelor's degree in Biology and a Masters in Biotechnology. Growing up, he enjoyed learning as much as he could from any and all topics. He has gone on many Wikipedia rabbit holes, scouring to find more interesting facts than the last. He writes to both learn and lead others into their own search of scientific knowledge, both mundane and interesting.

Comment (1)

  1. This kind of awareness is very good and would benefit a lot of people in the long run.
    I hope that this will progress and improve people’s lives. Thank you for sharing!

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