The new study was done on nerve cells in lab dishes and in animals, but if the findings also hold true in humans, these drugs could have surprising benefits for patients with certain mood disorders, the researchers said.
That's because, in people with depression or mood and anxiety disorders, neurons in the prefrontal cortex — an area of the brain that's important in part for controlling emotion — tend to shrivel up, said senior study author David Olson, an assistant professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine at the University of California, Davis. What's more, the branches and dendritic spines on the neurons' branches — which they use to communicate with other neurons — tend to retract, he said. [11 Odd Facts About 'Magic' Mushrooms]
In the study, published today (July 12) in the journal Cell Reports, Olson and his team found that psychodelic drugs increase the number of branches and dendritic spines on neurons, and also increase the number of synapses, or connections between neurons.
"Psychedelics are able to actually [change] neuronal structure, [and] that's really important because [brain] structure controls function," Olson told Live Science. That means it's possible that these drugs could help repair brain networks in the prefrontal cortex that might be damaged in conditions like anxiety and depression, he said.