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Magic Mushrooms Lift Deep Depression in 12 Patients

Safety study shows potential of psilocybin, but hurdles remain before it can be widely used in clinical settings.

ByTim De ChantNOVA NextNOVA Next
Psilocybe cubensis

Those are some pretty rad results, man.

In an effort to lift resistant depression, researchers in London gave 12 patients psilocybin, the same compound that makes magic mushrooms so magical. The patients—who had been clinically depressed for an average of nearly 18 years—responded remarkably well. Psilocybin succeeded where typical drugs, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and electroconvulsive therapy had failed. One week after taking the substance, all patients reported feeling better, and three months later, five of them had not relapsed.

The results are promising, but there’s still a lot to be done before the compound from magic mushrooms can be used in clinical settings. For one, this was a safety study. In other words, the researchers conducted it to test whether psilocybin could be used without harm, specifically that patients wouldn’t suffer from psychotic episodes after taking it.

Zoe Cormier, reporting for Nature News, has more:

The study’s authors are not suggesting that psilocybin should be a treatment of last resort for depressed patients. “Our conclusion is more sober than that — we are simply saying that this is doable,” says [first author Robin] Carhart-Harris. “We can give psilocybin to depressed patients, they can tolerate it, and it is safe. This gives us an initial impression of the effectiveness of the treatment.”

The researchers also emphasize that shrooms aren’t an at-home treatment for depression. The patients selected for the study underwent a rigorous screening process, were closely monitored, and were seen for a three-month follow-up.

The study is likely to spark renewed interest in psilocybin as a psychiatric drug. SSRIs—the current class of drugs that are often prescribed in cases of depression—were initially discovered in the 1950s and didn’t make it to the U.S. market until Prozac landed 1987. And while they have proved useful, their three-month remission rates hover at around 20%, Cormier reports.

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While the study is small and there was no placebo—after all, it’s pretty obvious who’s on shrooms—results suggest psilocybin may be a more effective treatment for certain patients.

Somewhere, Timothy Leary is smiling.

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