Magic Mushrooms Reset the Brains of People With Depression

A new study finds that magic mushrooms may be an effective way to treat clinical depression. Evert-Jan Daniels/AFP/Getty images

A recreational drug beloved by Deadheads and Burning Man attendees could one day become a first-line treatment for clinical depression and a viable replacement for antidepressants such as SSRIs.

Researchers from Imperial College London suggest that magic mushrooms, also known as psilocybin, may help ease symptoms of the mental condition. Their study, published Friday in Scientific Reports, found that magic mushrooms are effective for depression as a way to "reset" the brain.

The researchers tested the drug on 20 patients with treatment-resistant depression. Two doses of psilocybin were effective in these patients five weeks following the treatment. Further assessments through brain scans showed physical changes as well, when comparing imaging before and after the treatment. The researchers noted critical neurological changes such as activity in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain that is involved in producing feelings of stress and fear. Other brain networks, those linked to the depression-relieving qualities of psilocybin in past studies, became more stable. The study participants also reported fewer symptoms of depression following the magic mushroom treatment.

"Through collecting these imaging data, we have been able to provide a window into the aftereffects of psilocybin treatment in the brains of patients with chronic depression," Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial College, said in a press statement. "Based on what we know from various brain imaging studies with psychedelics, as well as taking heed of what people say about their experiences, it may be that psychedelics do indeed 'reset' the brain networks associated with depression, effectively enabling them to be lifted from the depressed state."

This is not the first study to show that psilocybin could effectively treat mental health conditions. Other research shows the drug is effective and safe to treat depression and anxiety in cancer patients.

The authors say they will need to conduct follow-up research since this study did not involve a placebo group. Until then, they recommend that people experiencing depression refrain from experimenting with the potent and powerful substance. Or save it for a Saturday-night rager.