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  • Writer's pictureWorld Half Full

Magic mushrooms ease depression


Just two doses of psilocybin, the compound that gives “magic” mushrooms their magic, has been found to significantly reduce depression in adults when combined with assisted psychotherapy.

Researchers at the Centre for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research (CPCR) at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine gave 24 adults two five-hour psilocybin therapy sessions with a 24-week followup. “The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” says Alan Davis, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences.

The CDC reports around 11% of adults have regular nervousness, stress, anxiety or other neurobehavioral symptoms, while tens of millions have at some point suffered from chronic anxiety disorder. One in six of us will have depressive symptoms at some time in our lives.

The CPCR has already run a number of psychedelic research trials such as MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for war veterans suffering from PTSD; the use of DMT to improve satisfaction with life; and psilocybin instead of a standard SSRI antidepressant for those experiencing life-threatening cancer diagnoses.

In this new trial, the researchers looked to see if psilocybin could be effective enough to be used as treatment for standard depressive disorders.

“Because there are several types of major depressive disorders that may result in [a] variation in how people respond to treatment, I was surprised that most of our study participants found the psilocybin treatment to be effective,” says Roland Griffiths, director of the CPCR and a pioneer of psychedelic treatment research.

Rather than targeting, as Griffiths called it, “reactive” types of anxiety or depression — those resulting from traumatic experiences — his team was encouraged by public health officials to explore psilocybin’s effects on those with long-term, persistent and less-defined major depressive disorders in the general population, because of the much larger potential public health benefit.

For all 24 participants, 67% showed a more than 50% reduction in depression symptoms at the one-week followup and 71% at the four-week followup. Overall, four weeks post-treatment, 54% of participants were considered in remission, meaning they no longer qualified as being depressed.

The researchers say they will follow the participants for a year after the study to see how long the antidepressant effects of the psilocybin last.

“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,” says Davis.

When Griffiths first began working with Johns Hopkins in 2003, he was viewed with skepticism. Now, though, his work has not only generated considerable interest in using psychedelics to treat mental disorders, it has led to Breakthrough Therapy using other compounds such as ketamine, which was administered in a nasal spray to treat depression in veterans in the state of Virginia last year.

I was surprised that most of our study participants found the psilocybin treatment to be effective.

Roland Griffiths

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