Psychedelic Mushrooms Can Regrow Brain Tissue Lost in Depression

The trip itself might play a vital role.
Brad Bergan
'Magic' mushrooms.Tony Sebastian / Unsplash

It turns out, psychedelic mushroom trips may change your life.

A psychedelic drug called psilocybin, which shows up naturally in some mushrooms, has shown signs of increasing durable connections between neurons in mouse brains, according to a new study published in the journal Neuron.

In other words, the damage depression does to your brain might be reversible with psychedelic mushrooms, and scientists think the trip itself could play a vital role.

Psychedelic mushrooms can increase neuron connections in mice

"We not only saw a 10% increase in the number of neuronal connections, but also they were on average about 10% larger, so the connections were stronger as well," said the study's lead author Alex Kwan, who is also an associate professor of both psychiatry and neuroscience at Yale, in an embargoed release shared with IE. Earlier laboratory experiments hinted that psilocybin, in addition to the anesthetic ketamine, can reduce the effects of depression. But this latest research showed these compounds also increase the density of dendritic spines, creating small protrusions on nerve cells capable of enhancing the way information transmits from one neuron to the next. Depression and chronic stress are known factors in the reduction of these crucial neuronal connections.

In collaboration Ling-Xiao Shao, a postdoctoral associate of Yale's School of Medicine, Kwan employed a laser-scanning microscope to create high-resolution images of dendritic spines in living mice, and track them for several days. The duo observed rising numbers and girth of dendritic spines on the first day following exposure to psilocybin. Crucially, these changes persisted for at least a month, and the mice previously placed in stressful situations exhibited improved behavior, with increased neurotransmitter activity, following the administration of psilocybin.

It could be years before 'magic mushrooms' are legally available to the public

It's important to note that some people consider the active compound in "magic mushrooms," psilocybin, a source of mystical experience, used in the religious ceremonies among indigenous populations of the "New World". And while empirically speaking, there's nothing else to say on the interior or subjective experience of psilocybin, the chemical remains a popular means of meaningful experience to many people around the world to this day. Speculating, we can say that the subjective experience of opening the "doors of perception" might be linked to the growth of neuronal connections, according to Kwan. "It was a real surprise to see such enduring changes from just one dose of psilocybin," he added in the release. "These new connections may be the structural changes the brain uses to store new experiences."

Unsurprisingly, this isn't the first time psychedelics have been linked to positive changes in behavior. In fact, scientists have sought to develop drugs that reproduce the antidepressant effects of psychedelics, but without the hallucinations. One study published in the journal Cell saw researchers genetically encode PsychLight, a green fluorescent sensor, into a specific kind of serotonin receptor linked to hallucinations. "This sensor allows us to image serotonin dynamics in real time when animals learn or are stressed and visualize the interaction between the compound of interest and the receptor in real time," said Lin Tian, senior author of the Cell study, in a Science Daily report. We're probably years if not decades away from the legalization of psychedelic drugs in the conventional "magic mushroom" form, which means in the meantime, people seeking to address stress or depression in this way may have to hinge their hopes on studies like Tian's.

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