News

Psilocybin therapy four times more effective than antidepressants, study finds

A new study investigating the effects of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of depression has yielded incredibly positive results: four times greater than usual antidepressant medication.

For those who don’t know, psilocybin is the primary psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, which has gained attention outside of ‘psychonaut-circles’ for its ability to help treat chronic mental illnesses, including PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

Now, a new American study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatrymarks the first peer-reviewed published data showing the effects of psilocybin – particularly for major depressive disorder (MDD), a treatment-resistance form of depression.

Psilocybin Mushrooms Major Depression Cure
Photo: Joe Amon via Wired

The small preliminary trial involved 24 subjects with at least two years documented history of depression, all of which were required to stop taking other anti-depressant treatment before the trial commenced.

The treatment process was similar to other studies. Two doses of psilocybin were given to each subject two weeks apart, as well as psychotherapy sessions both before and after subjects ‘took a trip’.

The subject’s depression was also assessed before and after the treatments using the standard GRID-Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. On this scale, severe depression scores at 24 or above, while a score of seven or less indicates no depression. At the beginning of the study, the average subject score was 23; a month later after the study was complete, that number dropped to eight.

In total, 71 per cent of the previously untreatable subjects had more than a 50 per cent reduction in depressive symptoms after four weeks.

Alan Davis, a corresponding author on the study from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, described the effect of psilocybin as “four times larger than what clinical trials have shown” and said that with further testing, the psychedelic would become a powerful tool in medicine.

“Most other depression treatments take weeks or months to work and may have undesirable effects, this could be a game-changer if these findings hold up in future ‘gold-standard’ placebo-controlled clinical trials,” he said.

The study is limited, mainly in its lack of placebo control and its small sample size of subjects. However, the results are still promising because while previous studies of psilocybin studies have focused on niche mental health conditions, such as terminal cancer patients, MDD is a more general condition with multiple manifestations.

Roland Griffiths, a famed American psychopharmacologist, confirmed that on such a broad range of MDD sufferers, these results are indeed impressive.

“Because there are several types of major depressive disorders that may result in variation in how people respond to treatment, I was surprised that most of our study participants found the psilocybin treatment to be effective,” he said.

second study by the Usona Institute is now underway to look at the effects of a single dose of psilocybin in a larger MDD population. Dubbed ‘Phase 2’ of the psychedelic experiments, results are set to be released by 2021. However, they may actually arrive sooner after Oregon recently became the first US state to legalise psilocybin therapy.