Psychedelics may help heal brains marred by depression, anxiety, and PTSD

Some say we're on the brink of a psychedelics revolution, one that may pave the way for more effective depression and anxiety treatments. Studies on psychedelics are still limited due to the substances' legal status, but an increasing body of research hints at potentially beneficial mental health effects from psilocybin, ketamine, and more. The latest study indicates psychedelics may "rewire" the brain to counter the effects of depression and similar disorders.

The study was recently published in Cell Reports, explaining that serotonergic psychedelics can "robustly" increase spinogenesis and neuritogenesis, something previously found with the substance ketamine. Put simply, the study indicates that these psychedelics may produce structural changes to brain cells that counter the effects depression and anxiety have on the prefrontal cortex.

The UC Davis researchers behind the study found the positive effects from a variety of psychedelics, ibogaine being the big exception. The findings found that substances like LSD may increase the number of synapses, the connections between neurons, as well as neuronal branches called dendrites and their small protrusions called dendritic spines.

Certain mental health disorders like anxiety and depression can essentially cause brain "circuits" to malfunction, something these psychedelic brain structure changes address. It's well known that ketamine can have drastically positive effects on treatment-resistant depression, and this study hints that psychedelics may be able to produce similar results.

Talking about the results is assistant professor David Olson, one of the researchers who participated in the study, who said:

People have long assumed that psychedelics are capable of altering neuronal structure, but this is the first study that clearly and unambiguously supports that hypothesis. What is really exciting is that psychedelics seem to mirror the effects produced by ketamine.

Digging into the study, we find that a single dose of DMT — the powerful psychedelic found in the trendy tea ayahuasca — has a "rewiring" effect on rat brains that continued 24 hours after the drug was administered. The researchers found that DMT caused an increase in dendritic spine numbers, a result similar to the effects of ketamine.

Studies like this indicate that future mental health treatments could involve pharmaceutical grade psychedelic compounds coupled with therapy to address these difficult disorders.

SOURCE: Cell Reports, UC Davis