Hallucinogen in Magic Mushrooms May Reduce Depression, Study Finds | Science and technology news
A single dose of a hallucinogenic chemical found in magic mushrooms can dramatically reduce symptoms of intractable depression, according to the largest study of its kind ever conducted.
About a third of the patients given a 25 mg dose of a synthetic form of psilocybin along with psychological support were in remission three weeks later.
All had failed to respond to traditional antidepressant treatments.
In the international study, 233 patients were assigned to one of three different doses of a manufactured psilocybin called COMP360.
They were also assisted by a therapist who prepared them for the six to eight hour hallucinogenic “trip” that was clinically monitored. Another session after the drug treatment solidified the experience.
The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that patients receiving 25 mg of psilocybin, the highest dose in the study, had the greatest response, with a significant reduction in symptom severity within a day of treatment.
There was still a clinical effect 12 weeks after the trip, but it was not statistically significant.
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The drug’s manufacturer, COMPASS Pathways, will start a larger study by the end of the year to confirm the durability of the effect and to assess side effects more precisely. More than seven out of ten patients in the current study reported side effects such as nausea, dizziness and fatigue.
Professor Guy Goodwin, the company’s Chief Medical Officer and Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, said: “We have seen positive results in a particularly difficult-to-treat patient population and the highest dose had the greatest effect on people depression.
“This suggests that COMP360 psilocybin has a true pharmacological effect, a finding critical to its future recognition as a new treatment option.”
Scientists believe psilocybin “rewires” the brains of people locked into negative thought patterns during depression.
It’s a completely different mechanism of action than traditional antidepressants, which alter the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.
Professor Anthony Cleare, a professor of psychopharmacology at King’s College London, who was not involved in the study, said the results were encouraging but more research was needed before psilocybin could be used in normal clinical practice.
He said: “The effects wore off after three months and we need to know what is the best way to prevent the depression from returning. This could include adding other treatments such as psychological therapies or repeating psilocybin treatment on a regular basis.
“There are also concerns that due to the relatively small number of patients studied so far, we still don’t know enough about possible side effects, particularly whether some people might experience a worsening of some symptoms.”
Nadav Liam Modlin, a therapist on the study and a specialist in psychedelic psychotherapy at King’s College London, said that patients given psilocybin enter a dream-like state, which allows them a glimpse of their situation.
He said: “To be able to sit with patients who have felt the burden of despair, trauma, shame, guilt and powerlessness, sometimes for decades, and reflect on what’s wrong with them… and then to a place To get to where they have a little bit more flexibility in thinking – and that includes feelings of self-acceptance and self-compassion – that’s always very moving.”
COMPASS Pathways says it needs to manufacture a synthetic form of psilocybin rather than using a magic mushroom extract to meet medical regulators’ requirements.