Magic mushrooms can tackle symptoms of depression, according to new research.
Scientists at the Yale School of Medicine have been studying the psychedelic compound psilocybin which is produced by a species of fungi.
When psilocybin is administered to mice, their neuron size and density in the frontal cortex of the brain increases by around 10%, the study found.
Postdoctoral associate Lingxiao Shao and associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience Alex Kwan explained in the journal Neuron that this "structural remodelling" made long-lasting changes in the brain.
Kwan said: "Psilocybin is fascinating because it has an incredibly short half-life, which means that it gets out of the body quickly and yet has long-lasting behavioural effects.
"We’ve seen that psilocybin can be effective in treating depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders. In this study, we wanted to investigate this mystery by observing individual connections in the mouse brain."
Like LSD and mescaline, psilocybin is a classic psychedelic and works by stimulating serotonin 2A receptors in the brain, the paper says.
Magic mushrooms will often cause visual hallucinations, distortions of reality, and "spiritual experiences" but it is what happens next that Kwan's research was focused on.
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After America's war on drugs in the 1970s which halted research into classic psychedelics, Kwan and other scientists have worked to revive the field of study, Yale Daily News reports.
The federal government declared them Schedule I drugs, which ruled them out completely as having any medical use.
Yet scientists have viewed classic psychedelic drugs as having the potential to treat disorders like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
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Kwan said: "I was inspired by Dr. Ronald Duman, who studied ketamine’s effect on [neuron] spine density.
"However, we chose to use psilocybin because it is so well-studied clinically. There is currently a large phase two clinical trial investigating the effects of psilocybin on major depressive disorder."
Albert Garcia-Romeu, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said: "There are certain risks with a high dosage psychedelic experience, for example, increases in heart rate and the possibility of precipitating psychotic episodes, particularly in those predisposed to them.
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"However, we take the proper screenings and precautions so that the dosage sessions are safe for participants."
In this study, Kwan and his team used a mouse model to better understand the changes the human brain undergoes during psychedelic experiences.
Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies Natalie Ginsberg is excited about the medical potential for classic psychedelics.
She said: "This is totally changing the approach to therapy for PTSD and other mental illnesses.
"Psychedelics can also greatly impact people’s connections to nature and to each other. We also hope to see psychedelics decriminalised, making them more safe and accessible to those who can be healed by them."
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