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 Medicine on April 11. This study analyzed two other studies to learn more about how psilocybin affected the involved individuals. The first study was conducted as an open-label trial with 10mg and 25mg of psilocybin, taken seven days apart. The second study was a double-blind phase II randomized controlled trial that compared psilocybin therapy against the effects of escitalopram, which is used to treat both depression and anxiety disorder. “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.”

Current head of the department, Professor David Nutt, also provided a statement regarding their evidence of how psilocybin works, in comparison to 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.”

The researchers did conclude by sharing that these results are promising, but more research is necessary in order to learn more about psilocybin as an effective 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 is rapidly becoming a new option for its therapeutic value. A different research study found that its properties are very similar to that of LSD, although LSD is known to be more potent. Many organizations are currently working toward getting psilocybin rescheduled, such as the recent International Therapeutic Psilocybin Rescheduling Initiative that was recently launched earlier this year. In September last year, even the DEA proposed to increase its quota of access to cannabis and psilocybin in order to increase its research efforts. Many advocates and organizations are working on a state level as well to bring awareness to the topic, such as Dr. Bronner providing funds legalizing psilocybin in Connecticut.


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