Preliminary research suggests that psilocybin-based treatment can improve emotional processing in depressed patients. The new findings are reported in the scientific journal Psychopharmacology.
Psilocybin is the primary mind-altering substance in psychedelic “magic” mushrooms. The drug can profoundly alter the way a person experiences the world by producing changes in mood, sensory perception, time perception, and sense of self.
Past research has found that depressed people tend to view social cues, such as facial expressions, in a more negative light. Selective serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs and SNRIs) are known to help reverse this negative bias.
The researchers were interested in whether psilocybin, which stimulates specific serotonin sites, could have similar effects. The psychedelic has already been shown to inhibit the processing of some negative emotions in the brain.
The study of 17 patients with treatment-resistant depression found that psilocybin treatment with psychological support was associated with better recognition of emotional faces. Patients who received the treatment were better able to categorizes faces expressing happiness, neutrality, sadness, anger, disgust, or fear.
The study also included a control group of 16 participants who did not receive psilocybin treatment and showed no improvement.
“Prior to treatment with psilocybin, depressed patients in this trial were shown to have a global deficit in processing emotional faces as compared with healthy controls, as reflected in longer reaction times to identify all emotion types,” the researchers explained in their study. “We observed a reaction time improvement post-treatment for all emotion types in depressed patients.”
The researchers also observed improvements in anhedonia scores after psilocybin treatment, which was associated with better recognition of emotional faces.