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Magic mushroom secrets offer treatment hope

Wednesday January 25th, 2012

British doctors want to test "magic mushroom" drugs as treatments for depression after a series of brain scans gave new insights into the chemicals.

The scans were conducted on healthy volunteers who took the chemical psilocybin, which gives some mushrooms a hallucinogenic effect.

Researchers at Imperial College London say their findings provide evidence for testing the chemical as a treatment for mental health - as it was in the 1950s.

One study of ten volunteers, reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found that they reported improved emotional well-being two weeks after taking the drug. During the drug experiment they were asked to recollect happy memories while in a brain scanner - and found the drug made their memories even more vivid.

In a second study, involving 30 volunteers, researchers found the chemical reduced brain activity - rather than increasing it as expected. The researchers say the drug disrupts the areas of the brain with the densest connections - leading to brain disorder.

Those findings were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researcher Professor David Nutt, of Imperial College's medical school, said: "Psychedelics are thought of as 'mind-expanding' drugs so it has commonly been assumed that they work by increasing brain activity, but surprisingly, we found that psilocybin actually caused activity to decrease in areas that have the densest connections with other areas.

"These hubs constrain our experience of the world and keep it orderly. We now know that deactivating these regions leads to a state in which the world is experienced as strange."

Fellow researcher Dr Robin Carhart-Harris said: "Previous studies have suggested that psilocybin can improve people's sense of emotional wellbeing and even reduce depression in people with anxiety. This is consistent with our finding that psilocybin decreases mPFC activity, as many effective depression treatments do.

"The effects need to be investigated further, and ours was only a small study, but we are interested in exploring psilocybin's potential as a therapeutic tool."

Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin.R Carhart-Harris et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences January 23 2012.

Implications for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study. R Carhart-Harris et al.British Journal of Psychiatry January 26 2012.

Tags: Alternative Therapy | Mental Health | Pharmaceuticals | UK News

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