Study Shows Psilocybin Reduces Brain’s Reaction to Angry Faces

New research has discovered that psilocybin decreases the amygdala region’s response to seeing images of angry faces. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotions, particularly those linked to anxiety and fear. This region in the brain also links emotions to other things such as senses, memories and learning. This region’s activity affects social interactions as well as behaviors, including avoidance and aggression.

Psilocybin is a compound that naturally occurs in some mushroom species known as magic mushrooms. The compound’s psychoactive properties can produce altered states of consciousness, which may include changes in an individual’s mood, perception and thought patterns.

For centuries now, the compound has been used in various religious and cultural practices for its therapeutic benefits, which help treat mental conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. For this recent study, investigators led by University of Copenhagen’s Sophia Armand carried out experimental neuroimaging research to find out if different doses of psilocybin would affect how the amygdala responded to emotionally expressive faces.

The researchers recruited 28 healthy individuals from a group of volunteers who had expressed interest in the psychedelic study. To start, each participant completed face tasks while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The tasks involved the identification of emotions on faces displaying anger, fear, neutrality or surprise in a random order. In addition, each participant had their body mass index, intelligence, sleep quality, mood and stress levels evaluated.

Once this was completed, every participant underwent a pair of dosing sessions, which were held 21 days apart. During the first session, each individual received a dose of psilocybin, then underwent another fMRI and emotional faces task. This allowed the investigators to compare activity in the brain while participants were under the psychedelic’s influence.

During the second session, each individual received a dose of ketanserin, which is commonly used in the treatment of hypertension.

The investigators discovered that the amydala’s response to angry faces decreased significantly when participants were under psilocybin’s influence. Reactions to neural and fearful faces also decreased, but not enough to be statistically significant.

In their report, the investigators noted that the amydala’s reaction to fearful faces in participants who admitted to feeling stronger effects of psilocybin was further reduced. This research elucidates psilocybin’s effects on how the amygdala responds to emotional faces. However, more research conducted at a larger scale is needed.

The researchers reported their findings in “Neuroscience Applied.” Other researchers involved include Dea S. Stenbaek, Kristian Larsen, Katrin H. Preller, Brice Ozenne, Martin K. Madsen, Patrick M. Fisher and Gitte M. Knudsen.

Many startups, such as Seelos Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: SEEL), are looking to leverage the ability of psychedelics such as magic mushrooms to exert medicinal effects in people with various mental-health issues. The gains made in research thus far suggest that approved psychedelic medicines could soon be available to the patients who need them.

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