Psilocybin, the dynamic hallucinogenic compound in Magic Mushrooms, has some inquisitive consequences for the human mind. There’s the obvious, of course, hallucinations, but a growing interest for scientists is its potential efficacy as an antidepressant.
A recent trial showed that psilocybin was as effective in controlling depression as the most commonly prescribed type of antidepressant drug, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). There have been indications that psychedelics can induce neural adaptations, but what psilocybin actually does to the brain and how long the effects last is not exactly clear.
The researchers have now investigated this in mice and found that the compound triggered an immediate and long-lasting increase in neural connections after just one dose. A finding could assist with clarifying psilocybin’s upper impacts, as per the group.
“In addition to the fact that we saw a 10 percent increment in the number of neural associations, however, they were likewise on normal 10% bigger, so the associations were more grounded also,” said neuroscientist Alex Kwan of the University of Yale.
Depression is often thought to be related to the neurotransmitter serotonin, a hormone that helps transmit signals between regions of the brain. The action of psilocybin (and other serotonergic psychedelics, such as ayahuasca and mescaline) is also strongly linked to serotonin. This has driven researchers to investigate their potential as antidepressants and, fascinatingly, they give off an impression of being very powerful.
Since SSRIs often have unpleasant side effects, psychedelics could open up new avenues for treating depression. In any case, not until we see precisely how these mixtures deal with the mammalian mind.
To this end, a group of analysts drove by Yale University neuroscientist Ling-Xiao Shao looked to notice the impacts of psilocybin in the minds of mice.
They divided a population of mice into three groups. One was given nothing but saline, as a control group. A second positive control group was given the anesthetic ketamine, another drug that has surprising antidepressant benefits.
The final group was obviously dosed with psilocybin. The researchers then used a laser scanning microscope to track brain changes in the three groups over several days, and then followed up after a month.
Compared to controls, the psilocybin group had a pronounced increase in a type of neural structure called dendritic spines. These are small bumps found in the dendrites of the neuron and play a key role in the transmission of electrical signals in the brain and synaptic plasticity.
It is normal to have some renewal in the dendritic spines, but conditions such as stress and long-term depression can cause atrophy of the dendritic spine and a decrease in the density of the dendritic spine.
The effect of psilocybin on dendritic spines in mice was surprising. Compared to the saline control group, an increase in the density and size of the dendritic column was detected in as little as 24 hours after receiving a dose and persisted for the following days. Seven days after the dose, about half of the new spines were still there. At 34 days, about a third of the new spines persisted.
The conveyance of the new dendritic spines was likewise fascinating. Some dendrites retained all the new spines that had grown, while others lost them entirely. However, it is unclear what this means at this time.
To further investigate the result, the researchers dosed the second group of mice, then sacrificed them 24 hours later and dissected their brains to count dendritic spines. This affirmed the ability of psilocybin to grow new spines in the brains of mice.
At long last, with regards to conduct impacts, the gathering of mice on psilocybin appeared to be better ready to adapt to pressure. When placed in a stressful situation – mild electric shocks delivered to the foot – the experimental group showed a greater inclination and ability to escape, and greater neurotransmitter activity, the researchers found.
The effect was similar to that of ketamine on dendritic spine density, suggesting that rapid neuronal structural remodeling could be key for drugs that have rapid antidepressant effects, such as ketamine and serotonergic psychedelics.
It is not clear how compounds that act differently in the brain have the same effect for now and warrants further investigation, the researchers said.
However, the result is promising.
“It was a real surprise to see such long-lasting changes with a single dose of psilocybin,” Kwan said. “These new connections may be the structural changes that the brain uses to store new experiences.”
The research has been published in Neuron.
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