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Study Finds Psilocybin Increases Brain Network Integration for Depression Treatment

The study, entitled “Increased global integration in the brain after psilocybin therapy for depression,” was published in Nature MedicineApril 11, 2018. The study examined two studies in order to find out more about the effects of psilocybin on participants. Open-label study with 10mg or 25mg psilocybin was the first. It was done seven days apart. A second, double-blind phase II randomized controlled trial comparing psilocybin treatment against escitalopram was conducted. This drug is commonly used for both anxiety and depression. “In both trials, the antidepressant response to psilocybin was rapid, sustained and correlated with decreases in fMRI brain network modularity, implying that psilocybin’s antidepressant action may depend on a global increase in brain network integration,” the study abstract states.

The study explains that patients who are diagnosed with depression “often exhibit a negative cognitive bias, characterized by pessimism, poor cognitive flexibility, rigid thought patterns and negative fixations regarding ‘self’ and the future.” The newest study explored brain scan results, and found that there was increased brain activity during treatment, as well as up to three weeks after treatment ended (referred to as an “opening up” effect). Both of the reviewed studies found “decreased brain modularity” and “correlated with improvements in depressive symptomatology.” These results were found in both of the studies that were analyzed, confirming their hypothesis.

Senior author of the study and former Head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at the Imperial College London, Professor Robin Carhart-Harris, explained the researchers’ findings. “The effect seen with psilocybin is consistent across two studies, related to people getting better, and was not seen with a conventional antidepressant,” Carhart-Harris shared. “In previous studies we had seen a similar effect in the brain when people were scanned whilst on a psychedelic, but here we’re seeing it weeks after treatment for depression, which suggests a ‘carry over’ of the acute drug action.”

David Nutt (current head of department) also made a statement on the evidence that psilocybin is more effective than common antidepressants. “These findings are important because for the first time we find that psilocybin works differently from conventional antidepressants—making the brain more flexible and fluid, and less entrenched in the negative thinking patterns associated with depression,” Nutt added. “This supports our initial predictions and confirms psilocybin could be a real alternative approach to depression treatments.”

These researchers concluded that the results were promising but further research was needed to understand more about psilocybin’s effectiveness as a treatment. “We don’t yet know how long the changes in brain activity seen with psilocybin therapy last and we need to do more research to understand this,” Cahart-Harris stated. “We do know that some people relapse, and it may be that after a while their brains revert to the rigid patterns of activity we see in depression.”

Psilocybin’s therapeutic benefits are rapidly increasing. Another research found its effects are similar to LSD’s, but LSD has been proven to have more powerful properties. Numerous organizations have been working to reschedule psilocybin, including the International Therapeutic Psilocybin Rescheduling Initiative. This initiative was launched in September last year. Even the DEA suggested in September that it would increase its quota for cannabis and psilocybin access. This was to help increase research. Many organizations and advocates are also working at the state level to raise awareness about this topic. For example, Dr. Bronner provided funds to legalize psilocybin for Connecticut.