Psilocybin: Magic Mushrooms give promising results in trials for depression

For over thirty years the preferred pharmacological treatment for depression has been Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) such as fluoxetine (the generic name for Prozac), citalopram, escitalopram and sertraline. The effect of SSRIs is to “take the edge off life” and in a way blunt experience, basically allowing people to care less, which is fairly effective at stopping people feeling bad, but it is not so effective at making people actually feel good.

Recent research into the psychedelic drug psilocybin, which can be found in “magic mushrooms”, has shown that it can match traditional pharmacological treatment in reducing the negative feelings associated with depression. But in an unexpected twist, researchers at the Imperial College London’s Centre for Psychedelic Research, found that on measures of work and social functioning, mental well-being and the ability to feel happy, the participants who were given psilocybin actually performed better. An exciting result when we consider that a treatment outcome for depression should not just be based on reducing negative symptoms, but also looking to improve the patient’s quality of life.

This was a small non-randomised trial of just 59 participants, so a lot more research needs to be carried out before we start to refer depressed clients to the Druids for their “medicine”. Guy Goodwin, professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford warns that the trial  “.. is under-powered and does not prove that psilocybin is a better treatment than standard treatment with escitalopram for major depression.” He then goes on to state “However, it offers tantalising clues that it may be”.


This trial adds to an increasing body of research that supports the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs in mood disorders such as anxiety and depression and points towards a new focus aimed at improving the quality of life of the clients rather than just reducing negative symptoms.



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