Magic Mushroom Compound Can Relieve Major Depression, New Trial Shows

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound that’s produced by hundreds of species of fungus. Moha El-Jaw/Shutterstock.com

Psilocybin, the psychedelic substance that puts the “magic” in magic mushrooms, has been shown to relieve major depression in a new clinical trial by Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. 

Just one week after receiving two doses of psilocybin as part of a supportive psychotherapy session, 67 percent of the participants showed over a 50 percent reduction in depression symptoms. On their four-week follow-up, just over 50 percent of participants no longer qualified as being depressed. The findings were published this week in JAMA Psychiatry.

While it’s a relatively small study, it’s yet another promising piece of evidence that shows the medical potential of psilocybin in the treatment of mental health problems.

“The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” Alan Davis, PhD, study author and adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement. “Because most other depression treatments take weeks or months to work and may have undesirable effects, this could be a game-changer if these findings hold up in future ‘gold-standard’ placebo-controlled clinical trials.”

A team of scientists carried out a randomized clinical trial of 24 people who had a long-term documented history of depression. As part of the treatment, the participants were given two doses of psilocybin (20 and 30 milligrams per 70 kilograms of body weight) alongside a supportive psychotherapy session. This session saw the people lay on a couch in a comfortable environment wearing a blindfold and headphones playing calming music, while a therapist encouraged them to focus their attention inward and stay with any experience that arose. Thirteen participants received the psilocybin treatment immediately after recruitment, while the remaining 11 participants received the same preparation and treatment after an eight-week delay.

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound that’s produced by hundreds of species of fungus. Known to spark a reality-distorting hallucinogenic experience, the drug has been taken for spiritual and recreational purposes for thousands of years, but it’s recently gained renewed interest from scientists looking to explore its potential in treating mental health problems.

Johns Hopkins is one of the institutions leading this charge. In 2016, they released a groundbreaking study that showed just a single dose of psilocybin can reduce symptoms of clinical depression, anxiety, and existential worry in patients faced with terminal cancer. The findings were promising, but it remained unclear whether the drug worked as an effect on general major depressive disorder rather than the “reactive” form of depression. 

Just like a handful of other studies have since shown, this new trial affirms the theory that psilocybin can relieve major depression. 

“Because there are several types of major depressive disorders that may result in variation in how people respond to treatment, I was surprised that most of our study participants found the psilocybin treatment to be effective,” explained Roland Griffiths, PhD, study author and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.

By total coincidence, the new research was released on the same day that Oregon passed a vote to become the first state in the US to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use. On Tuesday, November 4, the state passed Measure 109, which directs the state to establish a program in which people will be able to consume psilocybin. They also passed Measure 110, which decriminalizes several drugs, including psilocybin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.

 

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