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Magic Mushrooms Effects Illuminated in Brain Imaging Studies

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Brain scans of people under the influence of the psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, have given scientists the most detailed picture to date of how psychedelic drugs work. The findings of two studies being published in scientific journals this week identify areas of the brain where activity is suppressed by psilocybin and suggest that it helps people to experience memories more vividly.

Professor David Nutt, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, senior author of both studies, said: "Psychedelics are thought of as 'mind-expanding' drugs so it has commonly been assumed that they work by increasing brain activity, but surprisingly, we found that psilocybin actually caused activity to decrease in areas that have the densest connections with other areas. These hubs constrain our experience of the world and keep it orderly. We now know that deactivating these regions leads to a state in which the world is experienced as strange."

In the first study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 30 healthy volunteers had psilocybin infused into their blood while inside magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, which measure changes in brain activity. The scans showed that activity decreased in "hub" regions of the brain - areas that are especially well-connected with other areas.

The second study, published online by the British Journal of Psychiatry, found that psilocybin enhanced volunteers' recollections of personal memories, which the researchers suggest could make it useful as an adjunct to psychotherapy.

Read more at:  http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_24-1-2012-10-39-58