Natural compounds that have unexpected effects on the treatment of depression

A new study has revealed a new natural treatment that can help “open” the brain of depressed people, even after use, enabling brain regions to communicate more independently with each other.

The results of a new analysis of brain scans of about 60 people receiving treatment for depression, led by the Center for Psychiatric Research at Imperial College London. The team behind the study believes that it may confuse how the therapeutic effects of psilocybin are applied to the brain.

Psilocybin is one of several psychedelics used as a possible therapy for psychiatric disorders. A number of studies have examined a synthetic form of the drug for the treatment of patients with depression and anxiety, with promising results.

New findings, taken from two combined studies, show that those who responded to psilocybin-assisted therapy increased brain connectivity not only during their treatment but also after three weeks. This “opening up” effect was associated with self-reported improvement in their depression. However, no similar changes in brain connectivity were observed in individuals treated with conventional antidepressants (called acetalopram), suggesting that the treatment of psychedelic depression works differently.

According to the team, the results, published today in the journal Nature Medicine, are a promising breakthrough for psilocybin therapy, the effects of which have been replicated in two studies. They explain that in depression the types of brain activity can become rigid and limited and that psilocybin can potentially help the brain to get out of this rot in a way that conventional therapy cannot.

The paper’s senior author, Professor Robin Carhart-Harris, former head of the Imperial Center for Psychiatric Research, now based at the University of California, San Francisco, says:

“In previous studies we saw a similar effect on the brain when people are scanned in a psychedelic state, but here we see it a few weeks after the treatment of depression, which suggests ‘carry over’ the action of acute drugs.”

Preliminary results from two studies performed at Imperial suggested a reduction in the measure of depression, but the mechanism by which the treatment applied these effects was unclear.

In a recent study, a team led by the Imperial Center for Psychiatric Research analyzed fMRI scans of participants from these two trials, which included about 60 participants: an open-label trial in treatment-resistant depression – where all participants received psilocybin; And a randomized controlled trial in more general depression that compares psilocybin to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) acetalopram. All participants also received talk therapy with registered mental health professionals and brain scans were taken earlier, and then one day or three weeks after participants received psilocybin therapy.

Both experiments showed improvement with psilocybin therapy, as measured by participants’ improved scores in the clinical questionnaire. Analysis of brain scans reveals altered communication or connections between regions of the brain.

More specifically, they increased communication between regions of the brain that were more distinct among depressed patients. They found an association between this effect and symptom improvement in both experiments – although the strength and duration of the effect varied among participants, which was the strongest among those who reported improvement in symptoms. The researchers added that follow-up data for participants are still being analyzed, with initial changes in brain function one day after treatment giving a good prediction of whether a person will still show improvement in six months.

Professor Carhart-Harris added: “We still do not know how long the changes in brain activity seen with psilocybin therapy last, and we need to do more research to understand this. We know that some people get relapsed, and that The brains return to the rigid patterns of activity that we experience in despair. “

The authors warn that while these results are encouraging, previous tests for the evaluation of psilocybin for depression were conducted under controlled, clinical conditions, using a controlled dose prepared in a laboratory, and extensive psychological support before, during and after dosing given by mental health professionals. .

Patients with depression should not try to self-medicate with psilocybin, as in the absence of this precautionary measure, taking magic mushrooms or psilocybin may not have positive results.

David Knott, head professor at the Imperial Center for Psychedelic Research, said: “These results are important because for the first time we see that psilocybin works differently from conventional antidepressants – it makes the brain more flexible and fluid and reduces negative thinking. Supports the predictions and confirms that psilocybin may be a viable alternative to the treatment of depression. “

Professor Carhart-Harris says: “One of the exciting implications of our research is that we have discovered a basic mechanism by which psychedelic therapy works not only for depression – but also for other mental illnesses such as anorexia or addiction. We now need to examine whether this is the case. And if that’s the case, we’ve found something important. “

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