Could magic mushrooms be used to treat depression?
A range of mental health issues may benefit from treatment with psilocybin, the active ingredient found in magic mushrooms, say a new study.
The research, published last week in the medical journal The Lancet Psychiatry, looked at the effect of psilocybin on patients with unipolar treatment-resistant depression. But the study’s authors say the conclusions suggest it could be used to treat various conditions, including alcohol dependence, obsessive-compulsive disorder and end-of-life anxiety.
Researchers from the Imperial College London, conducted a trial of six men and six women with with moderate-to-severe, unipolar, treatment-resistant major depression. The subjects received two oral doses of psilocybin (10 mg and 25 mg, 7 days apart) in what the study referred to as “a supportive setting”.
Magic mushrooms and depression: “marked and sustained improvements in anxiety…”
The researchers found the psychedelic effect of psilocybin kicked in between thirty and sixty minutes after initial dosage, peaked after two to three hours and subsided after six hours. They found all patients were anxious during the onset of the drug, that most had “transient confusion or thought disorder” and that some had headaches and/or nausea. But the study noted that in the one week to three months after the treatment the group showed “marked and sustained improvements in anxiety and anhedonia”.
One shortcoming of the study, aside from its small size, is that there was no control group. The study’s lead author concedes that the results are encouraging but need to be followed up with more comprehensive studies.
“Treatment-resistant depression is common, disabling and extremely difficult to treat. New treatments are urgently needed, and our study shows that psilocybin is a promising area of future research,” says Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris. “The results are encouraging and we now need larger trials to understand whether the effects we saw in this study translate into long-term benefits, and to study how psilocybin compares to other current treatments.
Regulation around the use of magic mushrooms varies worldwide. In Canada, it is legal to possess fresh mushrooms, but psilocybin is illegal to possess, obtain or produce without a prescription or license under schedule III of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. To add to the confusion, mushroom spore kits and grow kits are legal and can be readily found for sale on the internet.
The U.K. study of psilocybin comes on the heels of several others that have looked at potential benefits of psychedelics, including LSD, peyote and mescaline. Dr. Evan Wood, co-director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, says part of the pushback against such research has a basis in economics.
“The pharmaceutical industry would like to see a model where people are labelled with a chronic disease and they take a pill every day,” he told the National Post. “What’s being considered here is a total paradigm shift, where we’re talking about people having an experience and coming out the other side of that with a new skill set and a new way of thinking that can actually have them manage and move past some of those historical challenges.”
Below: The New Yorker, “How Magic Mushrooms Could Help Reduce the Emotional Distress of Cancer”