Psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid found in over 200 varieties of mushrooms, may be a key to finding treatment for victims of clinical depression and post traumatic stress disorder without becoming addictive. Currently there are no pharmaceutical treatments specifically for PTSD victims but scientists believe that psilocybin, properly administered in a controlled environment could have positive effects on many patients.
Recent studies suggest that some people are more susceptible to developing PTSD based on the size of the hippocampus in their brain. PTSD victims appear to have smaller hippocampi and thus a lower tolerance for stress. The hippocampus is part of the limbic system that is responsible for forming, organizing and storing memories as well as connecting senses and emotions including fear and anger. When a person is under tremendous stress, the body releases cortisol that helps it respond to the traumatic event. Unfortunately, when too much cortisol is produced in the body, it can destroy cells in the hippocampus thereby reducing its size.
Research done in the UK showed that mice injected with low doses of psilocybin increased the rate of neuro development in the hippocampus resulting in unlearning a conditioned fear response. By altering the brains connections, the brain has the ability to relearn that a once “threatening stimuli is no longer a danger” and thus can extinguish that fear. It would appear that giving low dosages of psilocybin to patients suffering from high anxiety, clinical depression and/or PTSD would alleviate their stress, enable them to overcome fearful stimuli and experience emotional release.
A study spearheaded by Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris and Professor David Nutt is currently underway at the Imperial College London using psilocybin to treat patients with clinical depression.
Carhart-Harris RL, Erritzoe D, Williams T, Stone JM, Reed LJ, Colasanti A, Tyacke RJ, Leech R, Malizia AL, Murphy K, Hobden P, Evans J, Feilding A, Wise RG, Nutt DJ: Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2012, January
Carhart-Harris, Robin, “Your brain on psilocybin”; How magic mushrooms expand consciousness, Slate Magazine July 2014.
Briony J. Catlow, Shijie Song, Daniel A. Paredes, Cheryl L. Kirstein & Juan Sanchez-Ramos, “Effects of psilocybin on hippocampal neurogenesis and extinction of trace fear conditioning” 2013
Tull, Matthew “The effect of PTSD on the brain” July 2014