The active ingredient in magic mushrooms may help people with depression by enabling them to relive positive and happy moments of their lives, according to UK researchers.
Scientists from the Imperial College, London have peered into the brains of 30 healthy volunteers tripping on psilocybin — intravenously injected.
They then had their brains observed with magnetic resonance imaging scanners.
Activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is hyperactive in depression, was consistently lowered.
The findings by researchers David Nutt and Robin Carhart-Harris were published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Meanwhile, a second study conducted by the same researchers — to be published Jan. 26 in the British Journal of Psychiatry — "found that psilocybin enhanced volunteers’ recollections of positive personal memories, compared with those who took a placebo."
“Our findings support the idea that psilocybin facilitates access to personal memories and emotions,” Carhart-Harris said in a statement.
“This effect needs to be investigated further but it suggests that used in combination with psychotherapy, psilocybin might help people recall positive life events and reverse pessimistic mindsets.”
Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, was according to The Guardian sacked as a government drug adviser after claiming tobacco and alcohol were more dangerous than cannabis and psychedelic drugs such as ecstasy and LSD.
Discovery quotes Nutt as saying that: "One of the parts of the brain that is markedly switched off [with psilocybin] is the anterior cingulate cortex, which is particularly overactive in people with depression."
He said that while some researchers put electrodes in that part of the brain to switch it off, "It would be a lot simpler and safer to use psilocybin instead.”
According to The Guardian, the scientists struggled to find funding for the studies because of public suspicion and political sensitivity around psychedelic drugs.
Nutt said prejudice, fear and the criminalization of drugs had prevented important scientific work on psychedelic drugs.
He said the drugs had been used for millennia: psychedelic mushrooms grew in the Elysian fields of Greece.
"Everybody who has taken psychedelics makes the point that these can produce the most profound changes in the state of awareness and being that any of them have experienced," he told The Guardian.