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Treatment with the magic mushrooms of the 1960s

November 2017


If you remember the 1960s, then you weren’t there!  That was just one of the sayings that came out of the freedom and fun era that many of us may have lived through or certainly heard about.

The image of the era conjures up Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Rolling Stones visiting their Indian gurus; miniskirts and yes drugs.

LSD and marijuana were the new in drugs of the period but there was also a lot of interest in magic mushrooms.  In fact the term was applied to a range of mushrooms known as psilocybin mushrooms. When they were eaten, the psilocybin in them broke down to produce psilocin which can give psychedelic effects. They were popular not only for the effect they gave but also because they could be picked free of charge. Of course there were problems as people ingested the wrong mushrooms including poisonous varieties, but generally these magic mushrooms as they were called enjoyed a period of popularity among the young.

Now a new study has found that the same fungi can help rewire the brains of people suffering from untreatable depression.

A report has been published in the Scientific Reports and details a study undertaken by a team at Imperial College in London.  This isn’t the first time that trials have taken place looking into the safety and effectiveness of psychedelics as they are called, but this was the first study to use psilocybin to treat depression.

The 20 patients selected for the trial were all suffering from untreatable depression. They were given two single doses of psilocybin, 10mg and 25mg, in a two week period.

19 of the patients had initial brain imaging and then a further scan just one day after the high does second treatment.

The trial was lead by Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of Psychedelic Research at Imperial College, and he said the results of the test showed for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people who had failed to respond to conventional treatments.

Immediately after the treatment, some of the patients reported a decrease in their depression. Dr Carhart-Harris said: “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, and another said he felt ‘rebooted’.

"Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary ‘kick start’ they need to break out of their depressive states and these imaging results do tentatively support a ‘reset’ analogy..”

A lot more work will be undertaken in this area, and it must be noted that there was no placebo group involved in the test. But the general thought by the research team is that these findings provide an interesting new insight into the after effects of psilocybin treatment in the brains of patients with chronic depression.

The full report can be found here.

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