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A new study published on November 4th in the Journal of Psychopharmacology finds psilocybin to increase the expression of neuroplasticity in the rat brain. 80 rats were injected with one of seven different psilocybin dosages, and 90 minutes later, scientists extracted RNA samples from their brain.

 

To be clear, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to grow new neural networks, connections, and systemic adjustments. It is quite literally the brain’s ability to change, playing not just a significant role in learning new behaviors, but in disrupting older ones too. The leading premise in adjunctive psychedelic psychotherapy is that, by disrupting vigorous default mode network (DMN), the detrimental thought patterns associated with depression and addiction may weaken their over-governing role in a human’s behavior.

Neuro-growth in Prefrontal Cortex & Hippocampus

The scientists found increased expression of plasticity-related genes in the rats’ prefrontal cortex (largely responsible for higher decision making in humans) and hippocampus (which houses memory and recall abilities in humans). 

Thus, it is theorized that new neural networks in a human’s executive functioning brain region may positively impact the user’s decision making. Likewise, disrupting memory-dominated neural networks may allow users to recontextualize the narrative of themselves, the world, how they relate to the world, etc. These findings have powerful implications in the treatment of various difficult to manage neuropsychiatric conditions, including substance abuse/addiction, severe depression and end-of-life anxiety. 

These types of theories are largely pioneered by Imperial College London’s Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, a well known researcher in psychedelics and neuroscience.

Read Microdosing Psilocybe Cubensis: A Scientific Review in the Modern Psychedelic Renaissance

Comprehensive View of this Study

Furthermore, this new study on rat genes is in line with previous research. A 2018 Cell Reports study found psychedelics to increase the amount of neural branches and neural connections in rats and flies. This is direct evidence of increased neuroplasticity.

That being said, we must be careful of interpreting this new rat study too enthusiastically. Oskar Hougaard Jefsen, author of this study (among others), had this to say as a well intentioned caution:

“We still really don’t know 1) if human and rodent brains react similarly to psychedelic drugs and 2) which of the neurobiological effects that should be considered as important and which should be considered as irrelevant/by-products of the drug effects. It is very difficult to compare effects on rats with effects on humans because rats do not speak (or we don’t speak Rat).”

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Looking Ahead to Future Research

Of course, it is likely the case that the underlying mechanism behind psychedelic treatment of clinical mental health crises is plural, varying in severity, and dependent on a host of factors. We can look forward to research demystifying the gnosis of psychedelic medicine as we continue to destigmatize and legitimize it’s therapeutic potential.

 

For a truly interactive immersion into the mushrooming fungi space, make sure to join us at The Mushroom Conference: A Molecular Masterclass on Nov 20-22nd!

psilocybin neuroplasticity medical research therapy psychedelic