Psilocybin — the psychoactive component in magic mushrooms — seems to tone down the processing of negative emotions in the amygdala, according to researchers at the Psychiatric University Hospital of Zurich.
These findings, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, could “point the way to novel approaches to treatment” according to lead author Rainer Krähenmann, Ph.D.
When emotions are unable to be processed correctly, it can trigger mental disorders. When the amygdala responds to stimuli with intense activity, it can lead to the strengthening of negative signals and weakening the positive ones.
This process often plays a role in the development of depression and anxiety disorders. Psilocybin intervenes specifically in this mechanism.
Specifically, psilocybin stimulates specific docking sites for the neurotransmitter serotonin. Because of this, scientists believe that psilocybin exerts its mood-enhancing effect by causing a change in the serotonin system in the limbic brain regions. This process can be demonstrated through the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
“Even a moderate dose of psilocybin weakens the processing of negative stimuli by modifying amygdala activity in the limbic system as well as in other associated brain regions,” said Krähenmann. The study clearly shows that the alteration of amygdala activity is directly linked to a better mood.
These findings are of major clinical importance, according to Krähenmann. In particular, depressed patients react more strongly to negative stimuli, and their thoughts often revolve around negative contents.
Neuropharmacologists would like to pursue further research to find out whether psilocybin normalizes the exaggerated processing of negative stimuli as seen in neuroimaging studies of patients with depression — and see if this leads to improved mood in these patients.
Krähenmann believes it is important to investigate novel therapies for depression, because current available drugs for the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders are not effective for many patients and are often associated with negative side effects.
According to recent statistics, depression affects one in 10 Americans at any one time, and more than 80 percent of people who suffer from symptoms of clinical depression are not receiving any kind of treatment.
Source: University of Zurich