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