Story at a glance

  • New data suggests psilocybin, a naturally occurring hallucinogen, helps patients with major depressive disorders.
  • Controlled doses combined with therapy alleviated depression in the majority of study participants.

A landmark study suggests that a key chemical ingredient in the hallucinogens known as magic mushrooms can help people battling depression. 

The study, published in JAMA Psychology, focused on whether or not psilocybin is an effective therapeutic treatment for patients with major depressive disorders. 

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring hallucinogenic chemical that occurs in select species of fresh and dried mushrooms. It is normally used recreationally to achieve a psychedelic effect.

Other substances previously classified as illegal drugs have been proven to be effective at treating emotional disorders, namely marijuana, which has made great strides for its legal medicinal use. 


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Now scientists have turned their attention to psilocybin as an alleviant for major depressive disorder. Previous research has suggested that one to two administrations of psilocybin alongside psychological support can produce antidepressant effects in patients battling forms of depression and even with diseases such as cancer.

To corroborate this existing evidence, a study conducted by researchers at the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center observed the effects two dosage sessions of psilocybin had on a randomized trial of 24 adult participants, all with a major depressive disorder. 

All participants were aged between 21 to 75 years and were not prescribed or taking any other antidepressant medication. The participants were divided into two groups: one that would begin treatment immediately and another that would delay treatment as a control group. 

Two sessions of psilocybin doses were administered, with the first being a 20 milligram dosage, and the second a 30 milligram dosage. Dosages were administered on different days.

Both were administered in conjunction with a cumulative 11 hours of supportive therapy and counseling. 

The main outcome revealed that the majority of participants from both treatment groups saw either a clinically significant response, in which depressive symptoms decreased 50 percent or more from the baseline depression standard recorded at the start of the study or met the criteria to be classified in remission of depression.

Overall, the patients who received the treatment immediately as opposed to the delayed group saw a greater reduction in depression. 

"There was a significant reduction in depression in the immediate-treatment group compared to those in the waitlist," Alan Davis, a lead author of the study and faculty member at Johns Hopkins and Ohio State University, told NPR.

Secondary depressive symptoms and associated anxiety also showed similar decreases following the psilocybin treatments and lasted for at least four weeks — a period longer than other drugs, like ketamine, have produced in depressed patients. 

Psilocybin was also found to have low potential for addiction and limited adverse side effects. 

“These findings suggest that further studies into psychological and neural mechanisms across different psychiatric conditions are warranted,” the report reads. 

It notes that further studies will be needed with a larger and more diverse population. “We need a good deal more research that addresses safety and efficacy and the type of patient who's likely to benefit,” Davis said. 

While the cultivation of psilocybin is banned by federal law, a measure passed in Oregon that legalizes the licensed administration of psilocybin-producing mushroom and fungi products to adults 21 years or older by certified service providers. 


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Published on Nov 05, 2020