A recent wave of research is supporting the argument that psychedelics could be a key to improving mental health for patients who don’t respond well to conventional treatments. The controversial class of drugs, which includes LSD and MDMA, have always generated research attention (several were created in labs as potential treatments before becoming street drugs), but recent studies are revealing therapeutic benefits that can’t be denied.The latest study focused on psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms, in the treatment of chronic depression. The results suggest that when taken in therapeutic doses, the drug “resets” brain areas associated with depression and reduces symptoms for weeks after the initial dose.Researchers administered the drug to a small group of patients who hadn’t responded well to standard depression treatments. Two doses, 10 mg and 25 mg, were given a week apart. The patients’ brains were scanned using fMRI before and after taking psilocybin to assess changes in activity, particularly in the network of brain areas associated with symptoms of chronic depression.The results were striking. Brain scans showed significantly less activity in the patients’ amygdala, the brain area central to our stress, fear and anxiety response, and a stabilization of activity in other brain areas.“We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments,” said Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, Head of Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, who led the study.The patients reported uplifted moods, feeling less stressed and an overall improvement in symptoms for five weeks after the treatment. The researchers report that both the brain scan results and the patients’ anecdotal responses point to a “reset” affect across the brain network associated with depression symptoms.“Several of our patients described feeling ‘reset’ after the treatment and often used computer analogies. For example, one said he felt like his brain had been ‘defragged’ like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt ‘rebooted’,” reported Dr. Carhart-Harris in a press statement. “Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary kick start they need to break out of their depressive states.”Though the results are encouraging, this was a small study that lacked a control group. Future research will have to follow up with more participants, better controls and a check for a possible placebo effect. For now, however, the results offer preliminary support for what a growing list of studies are showing: psychedelics could eventually become an important tool for treating treatment-resistant mental health conditions, depression among them.The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.