Human Trial Finds Magic Mushrooms An Effective Treatment For Depression

We live in a day and age where people are opening doors to a variety of avenues for treating health issues. The holistic approach is growing in popularity as research continues to provide scientific backup for Earth’s cures. It allows people to see that synthetics are not always the only option, and perhaps not always the best option.

One of these approaches happens to be a hallucinogenic drug derived from magic mushrooms as a means for treating depression. The first safety study on this was recently concluded and published in The Lancet Psychiatry, in which researchers from Imperial College London gave 12 people psilocybin, the active component in magic mushrooms.

Patient History

None of the patients, who had all been clinically depressed for an average of 17.8 years, had responded to standard medications, like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or had electroconvulsive therapy. But one week after receiving an oral dose of psilocybin, every single one of them had shown an improvement in their symptoms, and three months on, five of those patients were in complete remission.

To put this into perspective, the remission rate for SSRIs is about 20 percent.

“That is pretty remarkable in the context of currently available treatments,” noted Robin Carhart-Harris, who is a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London and first author of the study.

“they can tolerate it, and it is safe…”

The authors of the study note that this form of treatment should merely be considered as a last resort for depressed patients, however. “Our conclusion is more sober than that—we are simply saying that this is doable,” explained Carhart-Harris. “We can give psilocybin to depressed patients, they can tolerate it, and it is safe. This gives us an initial impression of the effectiveness of the treatment.”

Because magic mushrooms are considered a Class A illegal drug in the United Kingdom, it was no easy feat to prove the safety of psilocybin.

The ethics committee behind the final approval had concerns over whether or not the patients would experience delayed onset psychotic symptom. Because of this, a three-month follow-up on all of the volunteers was requested. “This was unprecedented,” said neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt at Imperial, who is senior author of the study.

Not an Easy Task

And conducting the study proved a process as well. It took 32 months from getting the grant to dosing the first patient. “Every interaction—applying for licenses, waiting for licenses, receiving the licenses, applying for contracts for drug manufacture, on and on—involved a delay of up to two months.

It was enormously frustrating, and most of it was unnecessary,” said Nutt. “The study result isn’t the remarkable part—it’s the fact that we did it at all.”

Effective therapies for depression, which the World Health Organisation calls “the leading cause of disability worldwide,” have been difficult to find.

Major Health Problem

Researchers have looked at how ketamine and ayahuasca may be of use, but Glyn Lewis, who studies psychiatric disorders at University College London said, “It’s worth noting that we have not developed any new treatments which are widely used since the 1970s for depression, despite the fact that this is the major public-health problem in the Western world and middle-income countries.”

One of the most interesting parts of the study on psilocybin is its ability to work with a single dose in comparison to other medications that must be taken daily.