“Magic” mushrooms could have the capacity not only to blow users’ minds but also to heal them. British neuroscientists injected volunteers with the chemical psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, while scanning their brains. Since psilocybin mushrooms “are thought of as ‘mind-expanding’ drugs,” the scientists expected to see marked increases in brain activity, Imperial College London professor David Nutt tells Nature News. But to their surprise, activity decreased — especially in the parts of the brain that ground us in reality and govern our sense of self. Those regions — the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex — tend to be hyperactive in people with depression. The finding suggests that psilocybin’s ability to give recreational users dream-like, out-of-body experiences could also help depressed patients break free of the “particularly restrictive state of mind” that forces them into loops of negative thinking, says study co-author Robin Carhart-Harris. The effects could also be long-lasting; previous research has shown that a single high dose of psilocybin can improve the mood of recipients for more than a year.
— The Week, February 10, 2012