A new study conducted by Imperial College London researchers reveals that psilocybin, the hallucinogenic chemical in magic mushrooms, shows promise for helping people with untreatable depression. The study examined 12 people in total, and by the end, eight were no longer depressed due to the experience that they gained from the drug. After three months, five of these eight were still depression-free.
At the beginning of the study, nine of the patients had at least severe depression, and three were moderately depressed, with one having experienced symptoms that lasted for 30 years. All had tried at least two different treatments for their depression, and one had tried 11, without success.
Using low doses of psilocybin, the team first tested the patients to determine that they reacted to the magic mushrooms safely. Afterwards, they were given a very high dose that induced a psychedelic experience that lasted up to six hours. Each patient was exposed to classical music during the experience as well as psychological support.
"These experiences with psilocybin can be incredibly profound, sometimes people have what they describe as mystical or spiritual-type experiences," said Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London and first author of the study.
Although patients experienced side effects such as anxiety, nausea and headaches, these were expected. Furthermore, most patients experienced a rapid decline in their depressive symptoms.
"Seeing effect sizes of this magnitude is very promising, they are very large effect sizes in any available treatment for depression," Carhart-Harris said. "We now need larger trials to understand whether the effects we saw in this study translate into long-term benefits."
David Nutt, also from the Imperial College London and co-author of the study, believes that people suffering from depression get stuck in overly self-critical and negative thoughts. The experience that magic mushrooms provides acts as a "lubricant for the mind" that allows patients to break free of these thought processes.
Although experts are calling the findings "promising, but not completely compelling," the results are enough for many to call for larger trials of the drug in order to determine the validity of the current data.
The findings were published online May 17 in The Lancet Psychiatry.