An active, psychedelic substance found in magic mushrooms has been found to effectively curb symptoms of severe depression. Could this ingredient revolutionize treatment and transform into mainstream medicine?
Psilocybin And Its Effects
In a new clinical trial conducted by Imperial College London, 12 volunteers received a recreational dose of the Class A psychedelic substance called psilocybin.
All of them were diagnosed with severe depression and failed to improve while on two standard antidepressants.
Initially, the volunteers received a low dose of psilocybin to make sure there were no adverse effects.
After seven days, they were given a higher dose. They were treated inside a special room while music played. Two psychiatrists talked with them all throughout the whole experience, which lasted five hours.
Researchers discovered that two doses or 25 grams of the active substance were sufficient to lift depression in 12 volunteers within three weeks. In five of the participants, the symptoms were kept away for three months.
Volunteers in the study reported experiencing "mystical or spiritual-type" feelings as they tripped up the drug, scientists said.
One of the participants, a 45-year-old Londoner named Kirk Rutter, said he was heartbroken after the death of his mother. He said he had been unable to come to terms with it despite medication and counseling.
Although Rutter was nervous in partaking with the study, he said the friendly staff, the music, and the layout of the room relaxed him.
Rutter said during sessions, he experienced a "psychedelic turbulence" or the transition to a psychedelic state, but after this transition passed, the experience became pleasant and beautiful.
Could This Revolutionize Treatment?
Professor David Nutt, senior author of the study, said there were major hurdles before they carried out the research.
It took about a year to get the ethical approval for the six-month study. The most difficult part was getting through the red tape.
It also took scientists 30 months to get the psychedelic substance, which had to be packed by a company with a license to do so.
"It cost £1,500 to dose each person," said Nutt. "In a sane world it might cost £30."
Still, Nutt said their findings suggest that if administered properly and carefully, psilocybin is safe and fast-acting, and can benefit patients.
There is a caveat, however: the size of the research indicates that it is a proof of concept only.
What's more, scientists have yet to figure out whether the drug's effect was due to chemical changes in the brain or the psychedelic experience gives patients a new perspective.
Regardless, psilocybin provided hope for people who have been depressed for an average of 18 years, researchers said.
Meanwhile, experts hope that although the trial is small-scale, the results would encourage the Medical Research Council and other institutions to fund a large-scale trial.
Additionally, researchers warn the public not to use magic mushrooms on their own.
Lead author Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris said drugs such as psilocybin, which could have potent psychedelic effects, are only given during appropriate research and when safeguards are in place.
The findings of the study are published [PDF] in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.