Psychedelic Promotes Neuroconnections in Mental Illness
NODE SMITH, ND
The psychedelic drug psilocybin, a naturally occurring compound found in some mushrooms, has been studied as a potential treatment for depression for years. But exactly how it works in the brain and how long beneficial results might last is still unclear.
In a new study, Yale researchers show that a single dose of psilocybin given to mice prompted an immediate and long-lasting increase in connections between neurons. The findings are published in the journal Neuron.
“We not only saw a 10% increase in the number of neuronal connections, but also they were on average about 10% larger, so the connections were stronger as well,” said Yale’s Alex Kwan, associate professor of psychiatry and of neuroscience and senior author of the paper.
Previous laboratory experiments had shown promise that psilocybin, as well as the anesthetic ketamine, can decrease depression. The new Yale research found that these compounds increase the density of dendritic spines, small protrusions found on nerve cells which aid in the transmission of information between neurons. Chronic stress and depression are known to reduce the number of these neuronal connections.
Using a laser-scanning microscope, Kwan and first author Ling-Xiao Shao, a postdoctoral associate in the Yale School of Medicine, imaged dendritic spines in high resolution and tracked them for multiple days in living mice. They found increases in the number of dendritic spines and in their size within 24 hours of administration of psilocybin. These changes were still present a month later. Also, mice subjected to stress showed behavioral improvements and increased neurotransmitter activity after being given psilocybin.
For some people, psilocybin, an active compound in “magic mushrooms,” can produce a profound mystical experience. The psychedelic was a staple of religious ceremonies among indigenous populations of the New World and is also a popular recreational drug.
It may be the novel psychological effects of psilocybin itself that spurs the growth of neuronal connections, Kwan said.
“It was a real surprise to see such enduring changes from just one dose of psilocybin,” he said. “These new connections may be the structural changes the brain uses to store new experiences.”
1. Ling-Xiao Shao, Clara Liao, Ian Gregg, Pasha A. Davoudian, Neil K. Savalia, Kristina Delagarza, Alex C. Kwan. Psilocybin induces rapid and persistent growth of dendritic spines in frontal cortex in vivo. Neuron, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2021.06.008
Node Smith, ND is a naturopathic physician in Humboldt, Saskatchewan and associate editor and continuing education director for NDNR. His mission is serving relationships that support the process of transformation, and that ultimately lead to healthier people, businesses and communities. His primary therapeutic tools include counselling, homeopathy, diet and the use of cold water combined with exercise. Node considers health to be a reflection of the relationships a person or a business has with themselves, with God and with those around them. In order to cure disease and to heal, these relationships must be specifically considered. Node has worked intimately with many groups and organizations within the naturopathic profession, and helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic Revitalization (ANR), which works to promote and facilitate experiential education in vitalism.