A recent study has suggested that psychedelics may deliver their antidepressive effects by “shaking up” the brain networks responsible for regulating emotion. Major advances in psychedelic research have revealed that classic psychedelics have the potential to treat various mental disorders with barely any negative side effects. Researchers have found that psychedelics such as LSD, MDMA and psilocybin can offer long-term relief against a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder at relatively low doses.
Most of this research is still in its infancy, but the findings are so encouraging that companies are investing tens of millions of dollars to research and develop new psychedelic-based treatments for various mental disorders. However, while we know that psychedelics have potent antidepressive properties, scientists still don’t understand how psychedelics such as magic mushrooms and LSD alleviate depression.
Unlike typical antidepressants, which require weeks or months of continuous use to be effective, psychedelics kick in extremely quickly and can offer long-term relief after only a couple of doses, especially when combined with psychotherapy. The new study theorized that psychedelics may offer these benefits by ‘”turning the emotional dial toward positivity” and cancelling the negative outlook that depression typically causes.
The researchers used rats with low mood to test how ketamine, scopolamine and psilocybin affected emotional states. Ketamine and scopolamine shifted the rats’ emotions to a neutral state while psilocybin caused an even greater turn toward emotional positivity. By turning the emotional dial from negative to neutral or positive, the psychedelics improved the rats’ mood, replaced negative thoughts with positive ones and increased their openness to learning.
The research team also gained insight into why psychedelics are more fast acting compared to traditional antidepressants. They found that ketamine could rewire brain circuits responsible for shifting the emotional tone of memories within only a day without altering their content. This allows individuals to change how they view or feel about potentially traumatic memories and gives them a chance to overcome past traumas. Additionally, the researchers found that these neural changes remained long after the ketamine dissipated, allowing patients to enjoy long-term benefits after just one dose of the hallucinogen.
Lead study author Emma Robinson says the study’s findings could explain why even a single psychedelic dose seems to offer extended relief for days (ketamine) or even months. As lower psychedelic doses were more effective at helping patients reverse negative cognitive bias, future psychedelic-based mental therapies may leverage lower doses to maximize treatment outcomes.
Various companies such as atai Life Sciences N.V. (NASDAQ: ATAI) that are developing psychedelic treatments could benefit from the insights showing why hallucinogens exert the beneficial mental-health effects that they have come to be associated with.
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