How Can Psychedelics Treat Depression?

“I feel like I used to before the depression” — Participant from Imperial College of London Psilocybin Trial

— Photo by Jason Hogan on Unsplash

Can a safe and therapeutic Magic Mushroom journey have a positive impact on the outlook of life of patients with depression?

If you are a psychedelic researcher like myself, then you heard of Robin Carhart-Harries who conducted many of our most relevant researches in the world of psilocybin. In this article, I want to speak a little about his research on how impactful psychedelics can be in treating depression.

The following video is available on the OPEN Foundation YouTube. In 2016 they organized in Amsterdam a conference that brought together many of the most relevant studies conducted around that year. Now in 2022, they are again organizing this conference, check them out:

Robin Carhart-Harris studies the brain effects of LSD, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), and MDMA. Most recently he has completed the first phase of a clinical trial looking at the potential of psilocybin to treat depression.

OPEN Foundation YouTube page

Depressive Realism

Depressive Realism (or bias) is a trend shown by depressive patients of seeing the world through a pessimistic lens. This can be caused by delusion; a way to distort the perception of reality to fit a pessimistic bias. The use of psilocybin in the laboratory has been linked to the normalization of this depressive bias.

 “There is this quite evident pessimism bias that is normalized post-treatment with psilocybin.”

vIDEO – Min. 4:00

One way to go about investigating the reasons behind psilocybin’s capacity to normalize pessimism bias is to scan the brain of a psychonaut during a psychedelic experience triggered by the consumption of psilocybin and observe the brain for changes.

Ego Death Alleviates Depression

It is not every psychedelic experience that shows results for participants with depression. There is a specific type of mystical journey that is characterized by the occurrence of ‘ego-death’.

8 First-Hand Descriptions of Ego Death
Oxford Philosopher, Ph.D. Raphael Milliere Reveals EigFirst-Hand Reports of Psychedelic Ego-dissolution

10:50 — “A couple of our analysis […] identifies ego dissolution as a core facet of the psychedelic stage”

What part of the brain is connected with the ego-death?

Every day more studies highlight that the Default Brain Network may be connected with our sense of self and that the inactivity of this network may be associated with the occurrence of ego-death.

12:40 — “The way we approach this is to look at the relationship between ego dissolution and changes in the brain. We see quite reliably a relationship between the magnitude of the disintegration and the default brain network.”

During the psychedelic experience induced with psilocybin, the parts of the brain associated with the Default Brain Network show a drastic reduction in activity, often creating the experience of ego-death.

DMN default mode network psychedelics brain
Default Brain Network or Default Mode Network has been linked to the Ego.

The Default Brain Network and the Self

This network is also known as the Default Mode Network and we call it ‘Default’ because, during our daily lives, the DMN becomes more active when we are idle. I like to think of it as the distracted’ brain, and often it is related to incessant chatter and obsessive rumination.

The compulsive activity of the Default Brain Network also has been associated with patients that scored higher in depression ratings.

The Default Mode is actually a super important part of our mental stability. This network is also responsible for keeping our routines in check, making sure that our pending matters stay afloat, and that we are not overlooking anything.

The mental activity generated by the Default Mode Network is usually stable and consistent day after day. This daily consistency in addition to the fact the DMN is the ‘standard’ mental voice, may contribute to the illusion that the Default Mode Network is the self.

Robin Carhart-Harris’s argument is that the Default Brain Network may be the source of what most adult people call the ‘ego’.

12:58 — [The Default Brain Network is]: “Arguably the best candidate we have for the neural substrates of the self, or the ego, or our identity and personality.”

By analyzing the brain of participants who consumed Psilocybin, they noticed that there was a process of renewal happening within the structure of the brain, almost like a general mind reset. This process of rebirth has been reported time and time again by psychedelic subjects in research all over the world

17:50 — “We can think of the mind or the brain is reset in the same way that you can think of a computer is malfunctioning and throwing up an error message and you are wondering what you can do and then you press the reset button and it comes back working nice and smooth as it should.”

One experience alone of psilocybin has shown immense beneficial results in the world of mental health, and I think that we are living in an exciting time where we can witness the rise of the sacred fungi medicine that slowly but surely makes its way into mainstream medicine.

psilocybin trials report testimonial
Quote from psilocybin research participant— Photo by KAL VISUALS

In the talk there is a testimony of one of the participants:

26:35 — ‘Although it’s early days yet, the results are amazing. I feel more confident and calm than I have in such a long time. My outlook has changed significantly too, I’m more aware that it’s pointless to get wrapped up in endless negativity. I also feel as if I’ve seen a much clearer picture. [Now] I can enjoy things the way I used to, without the cynicism, without the oppression. At its most basic. I feel like I used to before the depression.”

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