Researchers at the Psychiatric University Hospital of Zurich have now shown that psilocybin influences the amygdala, the region of the brain that processes emotions like anxiety and fear, and can weaken the processing of negative stimuli.
The processing of emotions can be impaired by various causes and elicit mental disorders. Elevated activity of the amygdala in response to stimuli leads to the neurons strengthening negative signals and weakening the processing of positive ones. This mechanism plays an important role in the development of depression and anxiety disorders. Psilocybin intervenes specifically in this mechanism as shown by Dr. Rainer Krähenmann’s research team of the Neuropsychopharmacology and Brain Imaging Unit led by Prof. Dr. Franz Vollenweider.
Psilocybin positively influences mood in healthy individuals. In the brain, this substance stimulates specific docking sites for the messenger serotonin. The scientists therefore assumed that psilocybin exerts its mood-brightening effect via a change in the serotonin system in the limbic brain regions. This could, in fact, be demonstrated using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). “Even a moderate dose of psilocybin weakens the processing of negative stimuli by modifying amygdala activity in the limbic system as well as in other associated brain regions”, continues Krähenmann. The study clearly shows that the modulation of amygdalaactivity is directly linked to the experience of heightened mood.