Shrooms could help people with depression recognize a friendly face

'Magic mushrooms' could help people battling depression recognize a friendly face: Study shows psilocybin boosts patients' ability to process emotional expressions

  • Research has found psilocybin-based treatment, the primary substance in 'magic mushrooms', can improve emotional processing in depressed patients
  • Drug changes mood, sensory perception, time perception, and sense of self
  • Found psilocybin was associated with better recognition of emotional faces

By Mollie Cahillane For Dailymail.com

Published: 12:31 EDT, 21 May 2018 | Updated: 13:13 EDT, 21 May 2018

Magic mushrooms, known by many as 'shrooms', have long been touted as a potential treatment for battling anxiety and depression. 

A new study has found that psilocybin-based treatment, the primary substance in the mushrooms, can improve emotional processing in depressed patients. 

The drug can transform the way a person experiences the world by producing changes in mood, sensory perception, time perception, and sense of self.

Research has found psilocybin-based treatment, the primary substance in 'magic mushrooms', can improve emotional processing in depressed patients
Research has found psilocybin-based treatment, the primary substance in 'magic mushrooms', can improve emotional processing in depressed patients

Research has found psilocybin-based treatment, the primary substance in 'magic mushrooms', can improve emotional processing in depressed patients

Previous research has found that people struggling with depression have difficulties accurately reading social cues such as facial expressions, and tend to interpret them in more negative light. 

Popular treatments for depression include selective serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs and SNRIs), and have been proven to reverse the negative bias.

A study of 17 patients with treatment-resistant depression, published in Psychopharmacology, found that psilocybin treatment along with psychological support was associated with better recognition of emotional faces. 

Researchers showed patients static color photographs of six male and six female white actors that were morphed to create six dynamic emotional stimuli expressing happiness, neutrality, sadness, anger, disgust, or fear.

Patients who received the treatment were better able to categorizes faces showing the emotions.

The study also gave a placebo treatment to 16 people. They 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. 

'We observed a reaction time improvement post-treatment for all emotion types in depressed patients.'

Popular treatments for depression include selective serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs and SNRIs), and have been proven to reverse the negative bias. Pictured: Popular antidepressant Prozac
Popular treatments for depression include selective serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs and SNRIs), and have been proven to reverse the negative bias. Pictured: Popular antidepressant Prozac

Popular treatments for depression include selective serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs and SNRIs), and have been proven to reverse the negative bias. Pictured: Popular antidepressant Prozac

HAVE SCIENTISTS UNRAVELED THE 'RECIPE' FOR 'MAGIC SHROOMS'?

Research over the last few decades has suggested that the compound psilocybin may have a number of therapeutic benefits, with potential to help treat anxiety, depression, and even addiction.

But until now, the ‘recipe’ for psilocybin has remained a mystery.

In a new study, scientists have characterized the four enzymes mushrooms use to make this compound for the first time, setting the stage for pharmaceutical production of the ‘powerful psychedelic fungal drug.’

Scientists have characterized the four enzymes mushrooms use to make psilocybin
Scientists have characterized the four enzymes mushrooms use to make psilocybin

Scientists have characterized the four enzymes mushrooms use to make psilocybin

After identifying and characterizing the enzymes behind psilocybin, the team from Friedrich Schiller University Jena was able to develop the first enzymatic synthesis of the compound, reports C&EN, a publication from the American Chemical Society.

To get to the correct ‘recipe,’ the team in the new study sequenced the genomes of two mushroom species.

Then, they used engineered bacteria and fungi to confirm gene activity and the order of the synthetic steps, according to C&EN.

Their efforts revealed a new enzyme, dubbed PsiD strips carbon dioxide from the tryptophan, while another adds a hydroxyl group – or, oxygen and hydrogen.  

Another enzyme, known as PsiK acts as a catalyst for phosphotransfer.

Then, an enzyme known as PsiM catalyzes the transfer of methyl groups.

Based on their discovery, the researchers developed a 'one-pot reaction' to create psilocybin from 4-hydroxy-L-tryptophan, using three of the enzymes: PsiD, PsiK, and PsiM.

According to the team, the results could now ‘lay the foundation’ for the production of pharmaceutical drugs based on psychedelic mushrooms.

Some researchers say magic mushrooms are the safest recreational drug to take.

An international study found that just one in 500 people will be taken to hospital on the back of dodgy side-effects of the hallucinogenic.

This is around five times lower than that for the more popular party drugs MDMA, LSD and cocaine, it is believed. 

However, the drug is still illegal throughout much of the world, including in the United States, Canada, Australia and most of the European Union. 

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