Past research has found that experiencing chronic depression or stress can reduce the number of neural connections in the brain. Some people have sought substances that’ll help reverse this issue by triggering the growth of neuronal connections, but many of these products aren’t backed by science. That has changed for one popular compound, however, thanks to a new study from Yale University.
This new study focused on psilocybin, the psychedelic compounds found in a variety of mushrooms. Many people have reported anecdotal experiences over the years that claimed the compound helped reduce their depression or, in some cases, sent it entirely into remission. Such reports have been backed up by some studies that focused on self-reported symptoms.
This new study differs — it looks at the changes in the brain induced by psilocybin, finding that the compound can trigger neuronal connection growth after a single dose (at least in mice). Not only did the researchers find a 10-percent boost in neuronal connection numbers, but also noted that they were 10-percent larger on average. This means the new connections were stronger than before,
The findings were made by the study’s senior author and first author Alex Kwan and Ling-Xiao Shao, respectively, using a laser-scanning microscope. The duo used this tech to monitor small protrusions on nerve cells called dendritic spines over multiple days, noting that both the number and size of these protrusions increased within the first 24 hours of administering the psychedelic.
The changes, which were observed in live mice used for the study, were still around after a month. Beyond that, the researchers noted a boost in neurotransmitter activity in these mice, as well as “behavioral improvements” when the mice were stressed. The study joins a growing body of research pointing toward potential benefits associated with psychedelics, though questions remain.