Negative emotions like fear, sadness and anger evolved serving a purpose – enabling people to adapt to the changing conditions in the environment, reacting flexibly and efficiently to stress and strain. However, in modern society, in certain situations, we’d really like to avoid experiencing those feelings, as well as many others, like depression or anxiety. Researchers have found that psilocybin weakens the processing of these negative stimuli.
The processing of emotions is linked to the limbic system – a complex set of brain structures that lies on both sides of the thalamus, right under the cerebrum. In the limbic system, the amygdala plays a central role in processing these negative emotions – if the activity of the amygdala becomes imbalanced, depression and anxiety disorders may develop.
Researchers at the Psychiatric University Hospital of Zurich have now shown that psilocybin, the bioactive component in most magic mushrooms, influences the amygdala, weakening the procession of negative stimuli – thus potentially playing a key role in managing depression, anxiety and chronic stress.
Dr. Rainer Krähenmann’s research team of the Neuropsychopharmacology and the Brain Imaging Unit led by Prof. Dr. Franz Vollenweider worked together to show the clinical potential of psilocybin:
“Even a moderate dose of psilocybin weakens the processing of negative stimuli by modifying amygdala activity in the limbic system as well as in other associated brain regions,” continues Krähenmann. The study clearly shows that the modulation of amygdala activity is directly linked to the experience of heightened mood.
Psilocybin positively influences mood in healthy individuals, stimulating specific docking sites for the messenger serotonin, a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness, but now, this study has shown that it also blocks the processing of negative feelings. However, they showed that it also inhibits the processing of neutral stimuli. This affect is also only observed on the right side. The left amygdala is unaffected.
But Krähenmann considers that this still has many possible benefits, as research into novel approaches to treating depression and anxiety becomes more and more important. Drugs which are currently available don’t work for all patients, and oftentimes have unwanted side effects.
Previous studies have shown that magic mushrooms can treat drug addiction (heh), as well as depression; fMRI studies have also shown how the mushrooms “do their magic” in the brain, so there’s plenty of promise here.
Just a small edit: magic mushrooms are illegal in most places of the world, and taking them for recreational purposes is not the same as taking them for medical purposes. Also, if you do decide to take them, be sure not to be alone – have a friend you trust with you, and make sure you’re in a controlled environment, where nothing bad can happen. Psychoactive drugs are no joke.
- Rainer Kraehenmann, Katrin H. Preller, Milan Scheidegger, Thomas Pokorny, Oliver G. Bosch, Erich Seifritz, Franz X. Vollenweider. Psilocybin-Induced Decrease in Amygdala Reactivity Correlates with Enhanced Positive Mood in Healthy Volunteers. Biological Psychiatry, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.04.010