Magic mushrooms and music against depression

Isabel Lamb explores a new study that found a psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms that makes music more emotional to the brain

Isabel Lamb
18th October 2021
Psilocybin is the naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms. In the body it is rapidly converted into Psilocin, a selective agonist of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin helps modulate mood, learning, memory and some physiological processes. Psilocin binds to receptors in the serotonergic pathway – specifically to 2A type receptors that have been previously implicated in depression.

Clinical trials using therapeutic doses of Psilocybin have found a reduction in depressive symptoms equivalent to the reduction seen when using an established antidepressants, such as SSRIs. One such clinical trial conduced at Imperial College London was accompanied by supportive music therapy.

Another psychedelic drug, LSD, has been found to magnify a person’s emotional response to music, especially the tenderness and wonder they experience. Therefore researchers at the University of Copenhagen wanted to investigate the possible similar effects of Psilocybin.

Twenty participants listened to music before and after taking Psilocybin. After each replay participants rated their emotional responses using the Geneva emotional music scale. This questionnaire is a type self-report that attempts to encapsulate emotions evoked by music by rating responses in nine domains of musical emotions (peacefulness, energy, wonder, transcendence, nostalgia, tenderness, joy activation, tension and sadness).

The researchers found that emotional responses increased by an average of 60%. The combination of music and Psilocybin clearly has a strong emotional impact, suggesting that if Psilocybin would be approved for clinical use accompanying therapeutic treatment it should also include music.

The processes behind the action of psychedelics are not yet understood.

The processes behind the action of psychedelics are not yet understood. One theory proposes that psychedelics increase the entropy or disorganization of activity within the brain. Higher entropy is linked with the increased deactivation of a group of brain regions known as the default mode network. High activity in the default mode network is linked with self-focused types thoughts. It is theorised that by suppressing activity, psychedelics help create a more spiritual-like state of unity with the world and a less egocentric mindset.

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