Magic Mushrooms Can Be Safely Used to Treat Depression, Study Finds

·3-min read
Photo credit: VICTOR de SCHWANBERG/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY - Getty Images
Photo credit: VICTOR de SCHWANBERG/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY - Getty Images

They're widely known as the recreational drugs responsible for mind-altering trips, but renewed scientific interest in psychedelics as a treatment for depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse has led to a fresh wave of mind-expanding medical findings.

Psilocybin, the psychedelic compound produced by more than 200 species of fungi – often known as 'magic mushrooms' – can be safely given to patients to treat a range of mental health conditions, according to groundbreaking new research by King's College London.

The study, published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology, has been described as "an essential first step in demonstrating the safety and feasibility" in the therapeutic uses of the drug – which is currently prohibited in the UK as a Class A substance.

Scientists established that in controlled settings, 10mg or 25mg doses can be administered safely. Now, psilocybin is being considered a potential treatment for issues such as treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (continued below)

Current treatment options for these conditions are ineffective or partially effective for many people, so there's a substantial and urgent need for a solution. To date, no trials have been undertaken at the scale needed for regulatory approval to make psychedelic therapy available. But that's about to change.

For this trial – the first of its kind – 89 healthy participants with no recent use of psilocybin were recruited, and 60 individuals were randomly picked to receive either the 10mg or 25mg dose. The remaining 29 participants acted as the control and received a placebo.

Participants were closely monitored for six to eight hours, and then followed up for 12 weeks. During this time, they were assessed for a number of possible changes, including sustained attention, memory, and planning, as well as their ability to process emotions.

All participants were provided with one-to-one support from trained psychotherapists. No one withdrew from the trial due to an adverse event, and no trends suggested that either dose had any short- or long-term detrimental effects on the study's participants.

"This rigorous study is an important first demonstration that the simultaneous administration of psilocybin can be explored further," said National Institute for Health Research Clinical Scientist Dr. James Rucker, the study’s lead author.

"If we think about how psilocybin therapy (if approved) may be delivered in the future, it’s important to demonstrate the feasibility and the safety of giving it to more than one person at the same time, so we can think about how we scale up the treatment.

"This therapy has promise for people living with serious mental health problems, like TRD and PTSD. They can be extremely disabling, distressing, and disruptive, but current treatment options for these conditions are ineffective or partially effective for many people."

With the study set to move to Phase III trials in the second half of the year, it mightn't be long before magic mushrooms and other hallucinatory drugs become a viable treatment for depression. In time, psychedelics may come to seem no more out-there than, say, acupuncture.

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