A new study suggests that mixing a specific type of medication with a common hallucinogen might create a new form of therapy for depression. Recent studies have indicated that hallucinogens may have benefits for depression and anxiety disorders when individuals use them in combination with specific therapies. The psychedelic, psilocybin, which is found in magic mushrooms, has been the focus of many studies. Its effects can range from helping with social interactions to restricting a person’s attention to themselves. The reason for this treatment to work remains vague, but one of the theories suggests that psychedelics can help accelerate the realization and thought processes a person needs for their treatment to be effective.
A team of researchers belonging to the Imperial College of London observed similar advantages in people with depression who did not respond to any other treatment. By neuroimaging, it was seen that the drug could turn off a part of the brain, which is always on when a person is awake. Neuroscientists refer to this brain element as the default mode network. In the latest study, researchers from the University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich, Switzerland, combined the two to observe their collective impact for the first time. Around 39 Buddhist meditation practitioners participated in a 5-day mindfulness retreat. Guided by a Zen teacher, they followed strict schedules from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The practice, which is known as ‘sesshin,’ involves sitting meditation sessions, mindful physical activities, and outdoor and indoor walking meditation, throughout which the participants maintain silence.
On the fourth day of the retreat, some participants were given psilocybin, whereas the rest were given a placebo. The team found that those who took psilocybin showed more positive changes, mostly related to aspects like empathy, psychological functioning, and self-acceptance. The U.K. University had, earlier this year, opened the world’s first center for psychedelics research. A trial is presently being executed at the center to compare the effects of psilocybin with those of a popular antidepressant.