For many people who are seriously depressed, they don't so much want to "get happy" as they just want their brains to return to a normal, neutral state. And according to a new study from Imperial College London, so-called "magic mushrooms" may help make that happen.

In a recent trial, Imperial researchers gave 20 test subjects with treatment-resistant depression two doses of psilocybin, which is the psychoactive compound that occurs in magic mushrooms. They first received a 10-mg dose, and then a week later got a 25-mg dose. Nineteen of those people had brain scans done immediately before the first dose was administered, and then again after the second, larger dose was given.

When those Before and After scans were compared, it appeared that the psilocybin reduced blood flow in areas of the brain such as the amygdala, which is involved in the processing of emotional responses, stress and fear. Another brain network, which has previously been linked to depression, showed increased stability.

Perhaps more tellingly, the test subjects also completed questionnaires regarding their depressive symptoms after the treatment. They not only reported a decrease in symptoms, but also a feeling of their brains having been reset like a computer. These feelings lasted up to five weeks after the second dose.

"We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments," says study leader Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris. "Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary 'kick start' they need to break out of their depressive states and these imaging results do tentatively support a 'reset' analogy."

The research team does admit that the test group was rather small, however, and that no control group was used. To that end, a larger trial is planned, in which the effects of psilocybin will be compared to those of a leading antidepressant. The scientists also warn that the research is still in its early stages, and that people suffering from depression shouldn't attempt to self-medicate with mushrooms.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: Imperial College London