A new study has found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy increases neural and cognitive flexibility in patients suffering from major depressive disorder. Psilocybin is the active compound found in hallucinogenic mushrooms. Research has found that the component has clinically substantial and long-lasting effects on mood and personality when used in conjunction with psychotherapy.
The study was published in “Translational Psychiatry,” with researchers suggesting that psychedelic-induced increases in neural flexibility don’t always translate into cognitive improvements.
The study’s authors were focused on assessing the effects of psilocybin on neural flexibility, which refers to variability in brain connectivity and activity, and cognitive flexibility, which refers to the ability to adapt one’s thinking and behavior with regards to their environment.
Manoj Doss, who is a postdoctoral researcher at the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, stated that various mental health conditions had impairments in cognitive flexibility, explaining that based on data from animal models, psychedelic substances had shown improved cognitive flexibility.
For their study, the researchers assessed data from a prior study, whch had found that psilocybin-assisted therapy decreased symptoms of depression. They administered psilocybin to their participants at different intervals, after which each of the participants went through 18 sessions of psychotherapy. In addition, each participant had brain scans taken four weeks before their initial psilocybin session and a week after their second psilocybin-assisted therapy session.
They also completed the Penn Conditional Exclusion Test, which is a measure of cognitive flexibility. The researchers discovered that one week after the psychedelic substance was first administered, dynamic functional connectivity between regions in the brain that support cognitive flexibility increased.
In their report, the researchers stated that it was possible that improvements in neural and cognitive flexibility could open a plasticity window through which enhancements could be facilitated. Researchers also found a complex relationship between neural flexibility and cognitive flexibility, noting that increases in neural flexibility were linked to fewer improvements in cognitive flexibility. In an interview, Doss noted that while neural flexibility supported cognitive flexibility, too much of it could have negative effects.
The researchers highlighted that the study had some limitations, which includes its small sample and its open-label design. Doss added that the findings probably wouldn’t hold up in a different mental health condition or in a sample that was psychiatrically healthy.
Other researchers who were part of the study include Frederick S. Barrett, Roland R. Griffiths, Peter B. Barker, James J. Pekar, Gwenn S. Smith, Patrick H. Finan, Alan K. Davis, Nathan D. Sepeda, Monica D. Rosenberg and Michael Považan.
Studies have pointed out that psilocybin has immense therapeutic potential. Therefore, it is no surprise that many companies, including Tryp Therapeutics Inc. (CSE: TRYP) (OTCQB: TRYPF), are in various stages of developing and commercializing medicines from this psychedelic and others.
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