Many experiments are carried out on mice long before scientists are ready to study the impact on humans, and psychedelic mushrooms are no exception. Research is being done on the impacts of psilocybin, the main ingredient in “magic mushrooms.” We have known for a long time that these mushrooms can cause people to have “mystical” experiences and can even alter the brain long term, but new research has shown that they might even help physically reconstruct the brain.
Mice on mushrooms
In one study, scientists trained mice to fear a certain sound by shocking them each time they played a specific noise. Half of the mice received psilocybin, and the rest did not.
The mice that received the drug were able to overcome their trauma more quickly and hear the sound without freezing in fear.
Plus, the mice receiving the treatment actually showed growth in their brain cells, especially in the hippocampus – which is the most important part of the brain for forming memories and learning. When the new cells grow, they may actually erase the old memories, where the fear is stored.
What it means for PTSD
It’s one thing to be able to help mice get over their stimulus-related fears, but could it lead to more? Scientists are researching how this new information could impact people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. The disorder causes people respond to a trigger (like a loud noise) negatively, even when the danger (like being in a war zone) is no longer present.
If psilocybin can have the same effect in humans as it did in mice, it might be able to help these people heal. Getting rid of an overactive fear response can help people lead normal lives once they are out of the way of danger.
What it means for depression
The “default mode network” is the standard operating procedure of the brain. It leads to inconveniences we’ve all experienced – wandering minds, difficulty focusing, and negative self-thought. That mode is overridden by psychedelic drugs, helping people to see things in new ways and focus on living in the moment.
One aspect of depression is an overactive default mode network, causing the person to ruminate on themselves so much, particularly in a negative way – their failures, worthlessness, and other inadequacies.
By overriding that network, psilocybin can stop the patient from thinking of themselves so much and help them realize that there is a much larger world outside of themselves. In fact, it can have many of the same benefits of meditation.
Psilocybin and most hallucinogens continue to be a Schedule I drug, which means it’s completely illegal to possess. So, of course, self-medicating for depression or PTSD by eating psychedelic mushrooms is still a risky practice. However, future research may find that controlled ingestion of the substance could have great positive impact on people who suffer from one of these conditions.
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