BEACON TRANSCRIPT – A recent study has found that the active ingredient of magic mushrooms could actually be beneficial for people suffering from social exclusion. While this condition does not take a pathological turn in most people, if those affected are also prone to anxiety or depression it can quickly change into a severe issue.
Psilocybin is the active ingredient of magic mushrooms, studied by researchers in the latest report on the matter. It appears that a low dose of this substance has the potential of reducing distress caused by social exclusion by lessening the activity in the brain area responsible for this emotion. The experiment was conducted on healthy volunteers.
According to postdoctoral researcher Katrin Preller from the University of Zurich and lead author of the study,
“Usually, social exclusion and isolation is perceived as extremely stressful and painful. Psilocybin now seems to reduce this emotional response to social exclusion by attenuating activity in associated brain areas, thus making the experience less emotionally painful for the participants.”
The research involved 21 individuals who played a video game with two virtual people, believed by the participants to be real persons. After some time, the virtual people would continue interacting only with each other, excluding the volunteer from the discussion. Each individual went twice through the test, once with the placebo and once with psilocybin.
When they received the ingredient from the mushrooms, the participants declared they felt less excluded than when they were given the placebo. However, in both circumstances, they were aware they have been left out by the players.
Furthermore, the volunteers went through MRI scans in order to convey a better picture of what is going on inside their heads. When they got psilocybin, they presented less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area associated with anxiety and fear, but also social pain and distress.
The substance seems to stimulate two receptors that usually respond to serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Even though the exact process is still unclear, the scientists suggest that this could help regions of the brain to communicate, even if they normally do not. Additionally, like other psychedelics, psilocybin is known to increase subjective connection feelings with other people and the surrounding environment. As a result, it could reduce the “egocentric bias”, but also make negative experiences bearable.
The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal on April 18.
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