Psilocybin – the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms – has long been a recreational drug. A growing collection of research shows that psilocybin has huge potential as an antidepressant, yet not much has been known about how the drug impacts the brain or how long it may be effective.
A study published by Yale scientists is shedding new light on this mysterious drug. The experts report that in test mice, psilocybin induces a long-lasting increase in connections between neurons.
“We not only saw a 10 percent increase in the number of neuronal connections, but also they were on average about 10 percent larger, so the connections were stronger as well,” explained study senior author Professor Alex Kwan.
A scanning laser microscope was used to look at mouse brain tissue. Within 24 hours of psilocybin being administered, the experts found a growth in dendritic spines. Tracking these changes in living mice, the scientists discovered the new growth was still present a month later.
Mice subjected to stress also showed improved behavior after the drug was administered. The change in behavior makes sense as dendritic spines are spur-like growths on nerve cells that aid in the connections between neurons and the basic function of the brain.
Psilocybin users have long reported mystical experiences and profound feelings after using the drug. The “magic mushrooms” that contain the drug have also been used by Native American religions. It may be that these deep feelings and experiences are simply a product of increased connectivity in the brain.
The big surprise for the researchers was not that the drug was effective, but that it was effective for so long after just a single dose. What more secrets does this drug hold?
The results suggest that psilocybin can potentially treat depression without the need for a daily pill, considering the transformative changes induced by small doses of the drug. The secret could be that psilocybin changes the brain structures to contain new experiences.
The study is published in the journal Neuron.