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posted by janrinok on Sunday November 30 2014, @11:51PM   Printer-friendly
from the available-on-prescription? dept.

I may start growing 'shrooms in my dark and dank pantry and get off Celexa after reading this New York Times article about what may be the medicinal qualities of magic mushrooms:

A study published last month in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface compared M.R.I.s of the brains of subjects injected with psilocybin [the psychoactive agent in magic mushrooms] with scans of their normal brain activity. The brains on psilocybin showed radically different connectivity patterns between cortical regions (the parts thought to play an important role in consciousness). The researchers mapped out these connections, revealing the activity of new neural networks between otherwise disconnected brain regions.

The researchers suspect that these unusual connections may be responsible for the synaesthetic experience trippers describe, of hearing colors, for example, and seeing sounds. The part of the brain that processes sound may be connecting to the part of the brain that processes sight. The study’s leader [said that] his team doubted that this psilocybin-induced connectivity lasted. They think they are seeing a temporary modification of the subject’s brain function.

The fact that under the influence of psilocybin the brain temporarily behaves in a new way may be medically significant in treating psychological disorders like depression. “When suffering depression, people get stuck in a spiral of negative thoughts and cannot get out of it,” [the study's leader] said. “One can imagine that breaking any pattern that prevents a ‘proper’ functioning of the brain can be helpful.” Think of it as tripping a breaker or rebooting your computer.

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  • (Score: 1) by dlb on Monday December 01 2014, @01:59AM

    by dlb (4790) on Monday December 01 2014, @01:59AM (#121376)
    If you read up on fMRI's that are used in brain scans, you'll come across many in the neurological profession who caution that their results are overly hyped. All an fMIR shows is blood flow in the brain. If an area "lights up" it means there's an increased blood flow. So, does that mean that part of the brain is becoming more active? Probably. Does it tell us what that activity is all about? Hardly.
    So where do the researcher's get this conclusion?

    The brains on psilocybin showed radically different connectivity patterns between cortical regions

    I thought connectivity between neurons could only be shown postmortem.

    The mind-altering drugs used for anxiety and depression (effexor, paxil, wellbutrin, etc.) have side-effects that are wide spread and drastic. It's truly a shotgun approach where treating one area of the brain with an apparent increase of a neurotransmitter treats the whole brain with that apparent increase. Sometimes a patient's condition is severe enough that an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication is the lesser of two evils. And when it's not, prescribing them is just profit for the drug maker.

    These researchers see an fMRI change with psilocybin, openly admit they've no idea what it means, but then conclude that whatever it is, it might be good for someone with depression simply because of a behavior change, and mention nothing about long-term effects. I find this scary. Once a brain's been damaged, drug-induced or otherwise, it's no small feat to put the pieces back together again.

  • (Score: 1) by nishi.b on Monday December 01 2014, @09:03AM

    by nishi.b (4243) on Monday December 01 2014, @09:03AM (#121455)

    I thought connectivity between neurons could only be shown postmortem.

    True, but you can estimate the functional connectivity between regions as the temporal correlation between regions. Of course you have to accept that fMRI blood-based imaging really reveals functional changes (if you put a drug that increases blood flow, you will see activations against a control all over the place even if that doesn't mean anything).

    For example, if you show an image to a subject, the primary visual cortex lights up and then the regions associated to object identification light up 80ms later at every trial, you can compute the likelihood these regions are linked. In the case of this article, it is most likely that the connections do already exist in the brain in the anatomical sense (the neurons are connected) but these connections are usually inhibited by other processes. In that case, they are not "functionally linked" according to fMRI measurement. If the inhibition is lowered (for example because you disrupt the GABA receptors who inhibit neuron responses), you might see new functional connections between areas that will disappear as soon as the drug wears out.

    I am also surprised about long-term effects. If the subject uses his/her new functional connections, they are usually reinforced (long-term potentiation for example), even when the drug wears out. So not as harmless as implied by the summary...

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by sjames on Monday December 01 2014, @04:41PM

      by sjames (2882) on Monday December 01 2014, @04:41PM (#121552) Journal

      Except it really seems to be that harmless. A great many people have used and abused mushrooms over the decades and there is little in the way of evidence of a long term problem. Your contrary conclusion requires two assumptions not in evidence. First that the patient ever does continue using and reinforcing those connections and second, that it is harmful if they do.