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Magic Mushroom Trips May Actually Reduce Depression

Posted Jan 30 2012 4:49pm

The experience of tripping on magic or psychedelic mushrooms seems like it would cause the brain to be overactive. Especially when a maze of magic, vibrant colors and bubbling cartoons become reality. But a new study is showing that the psychedelic ingredient that causes us to trip, psilocybin, may actually reduce activity in certain parts of the brain, especially those that cause depression, according to a story over at  NPR SHOTS.

The part of the brain responsible for keeping our lives orderly and rational is also the part which tells us we’re not good enough or in fact, we’re worthless. When this part of the brain is overactive, it leads to depression. 

"Depression can be described as a particularly restrictive state of mind,"  Robin Carhart-Harris, a post-doc in neuroscience at Imperial College London, and lead author of the studies told  NPR SHOTS. "People are stuck on how terrible they are. This seems to suggest that people can have a lifting of that negative thinking under psychedelics."

NPR SHOTS  reported on two studies that showed how psilocybin can help with depression:

One of the studies asked 10 volunteers to recall particularly happy memories, like getting married or becoming a parent, both with and without psilocybin. The people found the memories much more vivid, visual, and happy while under the influence.

The second study used MRI scans to show what psilocybin could do. Again,  NPR SHOTS.

The Posterior Cingulate Cortex and Depression

In the second study, 30 volunteers lay in an MRI machine while tripping for science. The brain scans showed less activity in areas of the brain that may act as connectors, or hubs. One of those areas, the posterior cingulate cortex, is thought to figure in consciousness and ego. It's also hyperactive in people with depression.

The posterior cingulate cortex is the part of the brain that's responsible for the resting state, when the mind is thinking of the past and the future. It's concentrated on unconscious problem solving and daydreaming, according the academic article:  The Posterior Cingulate Cortex: From Laziness to Complex Problem Solving. When this part of the brain is too active it can cause a sense of anxiety and a feeling of being out of control. We're happiest when we feel as if we have control over our lives.

Disturbances in this part of the brain are associated with panic disorders and schizophrenia as well as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Understanding what part of the brain is responsible is helpful in learning to find ways to treat the disorder. More than that, understanding its impact on the brain gives us a biological reason why the disease happens that can be compared to any other physical disorder. 

Mindfulness and Depression

When the posterior cingulate cortex is over active, in addition to tripping, mindfulness can slow it down. Psychologist and researcher Mark Williams author of  Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World  calls it Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and says it’s  as effective as drugs for staving off depression.

Williams says that instances of depression have gone up drastically in the past few decades as we learn to cope with 24-7 cognitivity. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, or to be less scientific about it, living mindfully in all your daily pursuits, allows us to slow down and notice what’s going on in the mind and body such as thoughts, body sensations, and feelings. It’s not about clearing the mind, but rather, watching thoughts enter and leave the mind like clouds in the sk

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More on Depression
Second Guessers Question Their Way to Depression 
Coffee Relieves Depression in Women 
Hormones and You: How to Tell If Stress is Killing You 

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