Psilocybin, a substance found in hallucinogenic mushrooms, leads to a rapid and significant reduction in symptoms in forms of major depression, according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry. “The extent of the effect we have found is about four times greater than what clinical studies have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” said Alan Davis, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University and one of the authors of the study.
The promising effects of psilocybin on symptoms of depression
The results were obtained in 24 patients who experienced depressive symptoms for approximately two years prior to enrollment in the study. Nearly three-quarters of the volunteers (71 %) saw a reduction in depressive symptoms of more than 50 percent after four weeks, the study said. Fifty-four percent were in “remission” after one month.
Although this is only a very small, placebo-controlled study, psilocybin seems to be confirmed as an antidepressant and anxiety treatment. Its potential beneficial effects have been researched in psychiatry for more than 10 years. In 2017, a study by Imperial College London showed that hallucinogenic mushrooms can “reset” the brain of depressed patients by altering connectivity and blood flow. However, when we see the reluctance triggered by the approval of therapeutic cannabis, we suspect that the road to commercialization of psilocybin will be very long.
Psilocybin, a substance found in some hallucinogenic fungi, has shown promising initial results in half a dozen patients with treatment-resistant depression.
“This is the first time that psilocybin has been tested as a potential treatment for major depression,” said Robin Carhart-Harris, MD, M.D. of Imperial College London, who led the study, which was published in The Lancet Psychiatry.
Depression is a major public health problem that affects millions of people around the world and is sometimes resistant to existing treatments (antidepressants and psychotherapy). Research has shown that one in five patients do not respond to current treatments, while many of those who improve at first suffer a relapse later.
As early as the 1950s, researchers began studying psilocybin, the active ingredient in some hallucinogenic mushrooms. In 2008, American scientists showed that it has long-lasting effects on mental well-being and spiritual fulfillment. This led them to believe that the hallucinogen could help some patients suffering from anxiety related to cancer and depression.
The British researchers tested psilocybin in 12 patients with moderate to severe depression over an average period of more than 15 years. After two days of treatment, the patients were followed for three months. According to them, the psychedelic effects were observed between 30 and 60 minutes after taking the capsules, with a peak of effect two to three hours later. One week later all 12 patients showed improvement and eight were in remission. After three months, five were still in remission.
Does psilocybin have therapeutic effects?
Given the small number of patients tested, the researchers warn that no “conclusive” conclusions should be drawn about the therapeutic effect of psilocybin, but that further research is needed.
Professor David Nutt, who participated in the study, notes that the hallucinogen targets serotonin receptors, like most currently available antidepressants, but has a completely different chemical structure and acts faster than these.
In a commentary accompanying the study, Professor Philip Cowen of Oxford University concedes that the three-month results are “promising but not entirely convincing. Another specialist, Jonathan Flint, Professor of Neurobiology at Oxford University, believes that it is “impossible” to say at this stage that the molecule is effective in depression.