Mushrooms Vs Antidepressants: How The Treatments Differ For Depression

By Kelly Burch 01/10/18

A new study found that magic mushrooms were able to treat depression without the emotional numbing that some antidepressants have been known to cause.

woman holding psilocybin

Magic mushrooms may be able to treat chronic depression by acting on the brain in the opposite way that many popular and mainstream depression medications do, a new study finds. 

The study, published in the journal Neuropharmacology, found that psilocybin, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms was able to treat depression by increasing emotional responses in the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotional response, Science Alert reports. This is the opposite effect of SSRIs, a popular form of depression medications. 

“Psilocybin-assisted therapy might mitigate depression by increasing emotional connection, this is unlike SSRI antidepressants which are criticized for creating in many people a general emotional blunting,” study author Leor Roseman, PhD, told PsyPost

The study examined 20 individuals with treatment-resistant depression. They received brain scans before and after being treated with psilocybin. The scans measured their responses to happy and fearful facial expressions. The scans showed that treatment with psilocybin increased the emotional response to both types of faces, and that the increased response predicted the likelihood that an individual’s symptoms would improve. 

Nearly half of the participants reported that their symptoms had improved five weeks after receiving treatment. 

SSRIs treat depression in part by dulling negative emotional response. However, the study shows that this may not be the best treatment for depression. 

"It has been proposed that decreased amygdala responsiveness to negative emotional stimuli under SSRIs is a key component of their therapeutic action," study authors wrote, "but the present study's findings suggest that this model does not extend to the therapeutic action of psilocybin for [treatment-resistant depression].”

Many patients with depression complain that they feel numbed by SSRIs, so the potential for developing a depression treatment that does not subdue emotional responses is appealing to many. 

"I felt so much lighter, like something had been released, it was an emotional purging, the weight and anxiety and depression had been lifted,” one patient in the study reported. 

The study’s limitations included the small sample size and the fact that the emotional response of patients on SSRIs was not measured. However, the researchers plan to conduct more studies on treating depression with psilocybin, in which “all of these caveats will be addressed,” said Roseman.

Roseman said he looks forward to learning more about potential therapies involving psilocybin.

“I believe that psychedelics hold a potential to cure deep psychological wounds, and I believe that by investigating their neuropsychopharmacological mechanism, we can learn to understand this potential,” he said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.