Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can be at least as effective in a therapeutic setting as a commonly used antidepressant, scientists at Imperial College London write.
The psychedelic compound psilocybin is just as good at treating symptoms of depression as escitalopram, a common antidepressant, say researchers at the Center for Psychedelic Research in the journal. New England Journal of Medicine.
During the study, 59 volunteers with moderate to severe depression received either a high dose of psilocybin and a placebo or a very low dose of psilocybin and the antidepressant escitalopram. Subsequently, the participants were questioned on a range of topics such as sleep, energy, appetite, mood, and suicidal thoughts.
The subjects treated with psilocybin showed marked improvements in their ability to experience pleasure and express emotions, greater reductions in anxiety and suicidal thoughts, and increased feelings of well-being.
“These results help to contextualise the promise of psilocybin as a potential mental health treatment. Remission rates (when a patient’s condition improves, ed.) were twice as high in the psilocybin group than in the escitalopram group, ”said Robin Carhart-Harris, head of the Center for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London.
In addition, the psilocybin group reported fewer cases of dry mouth, anxiety, somnolence, and sexual dysfunction than participants who received escitalopram. Overall, the psychedelic drug had a similar rate of side effects compared to the current antidepressant.
In addition, the hallucinogen works faster, notes David Nutt (Imperial College London). “In our study, psilocybin worked faster than escitalopram and was well tolerated, with a very different side effect profile. We look forward to further trials, which, if positive, should lead to psilocybin becoming a licensed drug. ”
Self-medication is strongly discouraged
Despite these initial positive results, Carhart-Harris warns that patients suffering from depression should not try to self-medicate with magic mushrooms now. The researchers emphasize that taking magic mushrooms or psilocybin without careful precautions in a clinical and therapeutic context may not have a positive outcome.
The research team also stresses that more studies are needed, as only 59 people took part in the study and no pure placebo group was used. “I strongly encourage researchers and the general public to learn more about our results,” added Carhart-Harris.