Two studies recently found that magic mushrooms act similarly to anti-depressants. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Two recent studies have found psilocybin mushrooms, or “magic mushrooms,” have properties that could make them useful psychotherapeutic drugs. The hallucinogenic fungi were shown to act in a similar manner to antidepressants.

Brain activity slowed rather than stimulated

Two studies are being published about the health effects of psilocybin mushrooms, often referred to as “magic mushrooms” or simply “shrooms,” according to Reuters. One is being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an American publication. The other appears in  the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Both studies involved many of the same personnel, such as senior author Professor David Nutt, according to CBS, and lead researcher and co-author Robin Carhartt Harris, according to Time magazine.

The first study used 30 volunteers, who were given a dose of psilocybin mushrooms, and images of their brains were taken using a magnetic resonance imaging machine. The MRIs revealed that activity was not stimulated in areas of the brain, as previously thought, but rather that the psilocybin, the active hallucinogenic ingredient, inhibits activity in certain areas of the brain.

Mechanism similar to anti-depressants

The study, according to Reuters, found that the areas of the brain most affected in the first study were the medial pre-frontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex and hypothalamus. Brain activity in the mPFC and PCC slowed, and blood flow to the hypothalamus slowed.

Hyperactivity in the mPFC, located at the front of the brain and behind the eyes, is observed with depression, which anti-depressant medications such as Prozac treat. Given the similar nature of the effects on the mPFC, psilocybin acts almost like a long-term anti-depressant.

Control of blood flow to the hypothalamus is also interesting, as increased blood flow to the hypothalamus is often observed in patients with cluster headaches, which psilocybin could potentially be used to treat.

The second study found that an additional 10 patients who were given psilocybin were better able to access memories, among other benefits.

Benefits observed before

The line between recreational drugs and medicine is blurrier than one might think; many now-illegal recreational drugs were once medicinal, including cocaine, heroin and LSD.

Two studies from Johns Hopkins were published in 2011 regarding effects of psilocybin mushrooms. One study, published in Sept. 2011, found 30 of 51 test subjects who were given psilocybin mushrooms had a “spiritual experience” while taking the drug and reported a better, more “open” mental state one year after the study was done, according to Bloomberg. A similar study, published in June 2011, according to WebMD, reported 75 percent of the 18 study participants reported a profound and beneficial experience from taking the drug.

“Magic mushrooms” remain a Schedule 1 drug. Possession is illegal and citing obscure medical literature will get a person nowhere with the police.






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