Psilocybin, the psychedelic component of magic mushrooms, improved the symptoms of depression in a small-scale trial.
The trial, which was conducted on 12 people and has been published in The Lancet, found that the compound even worked on so called “treatment-resistant” depression. The research could provide the basis for radical new treatment for depression.
“It is important that academic research groups try to develop possible new treatments for depression as the pharmaceutical industry is pulling out of this field,” said David Nutt, senior author of the research. “Our study has shown psilocybin is safe and fast acting so may, if administered carefully, have value for these patients.”
The research, conducted by a team at Imperial College London, monitored twelve participants (six men and six women aged between 30 and 64), all of whom knew they were receiving the compound. All participants had previously taken at least two courses of antidepressants, to which they did not respond, and eleven had undergone psychotherapy.
Eligibility for the trials meant that participants who had attempted suicide or those who had experienced psychosis were screened out.
The group was given two doses of a psilocybin capsule seven days apart. Patients showed a “decrease in symptoms of depression” for at least three weeks after the dosage was administered, with seven participants continuing to show a positive response up to “three months” after the treatment.
Participants reported feeling “relaxed”, as well as having a “mostly pleasant and sometimes beautiful” experience.
Though the results are positive, the sample size was small and further research will need to be done into the effects of the compound. Researchers also warned that drugs should not be taken without supervision.
“Psychedelic drugs have potent psychological effects and are only given in our research when appropriate safeguards are in place, such as careful screening and professional therapeutic support,” said lead author Robin Carhart-Harris.
“I wouldn’t want members of the public thinking they can treat their own depressions by picking their own magic mushrooms. That kind of approach could be risky.”
Other trials have found positive psychological effects of recreational drugs. In a study published in Nature in May of this year, a chemical byproduct of ketamine was found to have antidepressant effect on mice. And in April, Imperial College released images that they say showed how the brain becomes “unified” under the influence of LSD.