No one knows how painful it is to be left out until one experiences it firsthand. It may be nothing for some people, but for those suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, it can be a huge problem.

Psilocybin is a mild-altering chemical and potent ingredient that gives mushrooms some "magical" properties. Though it's well-known to give trippy states, it may reduce the pain of social rejection, a new study found.

A new small study conducted by researchers from the University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich has found that in healthy volunteers, a low dose of psilocybin can help reduce the feeling of distress resulting from mild social exclusion. It also reduces the activity of the brain linked with this type of emotion.

Experiencing social problems is a key characteristic of psychiatric disorders. Current therapies and treatments do not sufficiently target this problem. The researchers, however, wanted to evaluate the effectiveness of the most active ingredient in Mexican magic mushrooms in addressing social conflicts in the brain.

They applied brain imaging methods and found that psilocybin can change the processing of social conflicts in the brain, resulting in the participants experiencing social exclusion as less stressful.

While having their brains scanned, the participants played an online game in which they felt socially excluded. In the middle of the game, the participants reported feeling less social pain when they received psilocybin than those who received a placebo. The ones who were given psilocybin showed less activity in the regions of the brain linked to social pain.

"These new results could be groundbreaking for the illumination of the neuropharmacological mechanisms of social interaction and may help to develop new treatments," said Franz Vollenweider, director of the Neuropsychopharmacology and Brain Imaging Unit.

Notably, the researchers observed that psilocybin stimulates particular serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter linked to epilepsy, autism, anxiety, depression and mood disorders. The chemical causes lessened reaction to social exclusion or rejection, making patients feel less excluded and experience less social pain.

"Our findings may help to diminish a knowledge gap that currently restrains the development of pharmacotherapies for sociocognitive deficits in psychiatric disorders," the researchers concluded in the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Photo: Jon Díez Supat | Flickr 

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