New trials have revealed the drug psilocybin to be very effective in treating depression, with Oakland the latest US city to in effect decriminalise it a week ago. Some researchers say it could become ‘indefensible’ to disregard evidence – but exactly how would it work as a reliable treatment?
Lying over a bed in London’s Hammersmith hospital ingesting capsules of psilocybin, the active component of magic mushrooms, Michael had little idea what might happen next. The 56-year-old part time website developer from County Durham in northern England had battled depression for 30 years and had tried talking therapies and various types of antidepressant without any success. His mother’s death from cancer, followed by a friend’s suicide, had left him at one of his lowest points yet. Searching online to determine if Microdose Mushrooms Canada in the yard were the hallucinogenic variety, he had come across a pioneering medical trial at Imperial College London.
Paying attention to music and in the middle of candles and flowers inside the decorated clinical room, Michael anxiously waited for the drug to start working. After 50 minutes, he saw bright lights leading into the distance and embarked on the five-hour journey into his own mind, where he would re-live an array of childhood memories and confront his grief. For the upcoming 3 months, his depressive symptoms waned. He felt upbeat and accepting, enjoying pastimes he had come to feel apathetic about, including walking from the Yorkshire countryside and taking photographs of nature.
“I was a different person,” says Michael. “I couldn’t wait to get dressed, get into the outside world, see people. I was supremely confident – more like I used to be after i was younger, before the depression started and reached its worst.”
The trial, finished in 2016, was the initial modern study to focus on treatment-resistant depression with psilocybin, a psychedelic drug naturally sourced in around 200 types of mushroom. To varying degrees, Michael and all of 18 other participants saw their symptoms reduce per week after two treatments, such as a high, 25mg dose. Five weeks later, nine out of 19 patients found that their depression was still significantly reduced (by 50% or even more) – results that largely held steady for three months. That they had endured depression for typically 18 years and all had tried other treatments. In January this season, the trial launched its second stage: an ambitious effort to check psilocybin on the larger group along with more scientific rigour (including a control group, which Michael’s study lacked), comparing the drug’s performance with escitalopram, a typical antidepressant. They has treated in regards to a third from the 60 patients and state that early effects are promising for psilocybin.
Imperial’s current job is among a string of brand new studies that a small group of professors, campaigners and investors hope will lead to psilocybin’s medical approval as a transformative treatment. Others soon to start feature an 80-person study run by Usona Institute, a Wisconsin-based medical non-profit, as well as a trial at King’s College London, and also a 216-person trial that is already under way across the US, Europe and Canada, managed through the London-based life sciences company Compass Pathways. Robin Carhart-Harris, head of Imperial’s Centre for Psychedelic Research along with a Compass scientific adviser, believes psilocybin could be a licensed medicine within five years, or potentially even sooner. “By about this point,” he says, “it could be like an irresistible force, and indefensible to disregard the weight of the evidence.”
Psilocybin mushrooms have already been part of religious rituals for hundreds of years. The Aztecs of Mexico known as the mushroom as teonanácatl, or “God’s flesh”, in homage to the believed sacred power. In 1957, Albert Hoffman, a Swiss chemist working for the pharmaceutical company Sandoz, isolated psilocybin from your mushroom. Fifteen years earlier, he had accidentally ingested LSD, left work feeling dizzy, and experienced its psychedelic effects when he got home. Through the 1960s, Sandoz sold psilocybin and LSD for research in medical trials, but the substances were soon outlawed after they became linked to the 60s counterculture.
Psilocybin remains inside the most restricted category today under the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, the US 1970 Controlled Substances Act as well as the 1971 UK Misuse of medicine Act, amongst others. David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychoparmacology at Imperial, that is overseeing the existing trials, disputes the evidence for this particular, stating that heavily restricting the drug (and other psychedelics) has hindered research and propelled “lies” about its risks and medical potential. For him, the decision is “one of the very atrocious types of the censorship of science and medicine inside the background of the world”.
If successful, the brand new wave of research may continue to change psilocybin’s reputation after decades of prohibition. Carhart-Harris believes the drug delivers a better and more comprehensive treatment than current antidepressants, and that could well be considered a powerful new therapy for a host of other mental illnesses, including anxiety and food disorders. A 2016 Johns Hopkins University study of 51 patients with life-threatening cancer showed high doses of psilocybin significantly reduced end-of-life depression and anxiety for six months in 80% of cases, and helped patients accept death; a New York University study that year showed similar results. Current trials are seeking further at psilocybin’s possibility of reducing smoking addiction and alcohol dependency, after initial pilots yielded ngpckc results. (Johns Hopkins researchers showed in a tiny study, as an example, that 80% of heavy smokers had not smoked to get a least every week, 6 months after psilocybin treatment.)
Carhart-Harris thinks area of the reason the Microdose Mushrooms Canada has become effective in treating depression in trials up to now is that it will help people see their lives more clearly. When watching patients tripping, he often feels as though they see a truer version of reality than the sober therapists guiding them: “It is practically like finding yourself in the actual existence of someone particularly wise, in terms of what comes out of their mouth.” It really is unclear the amount of the depression alleviation comes from the psychiatric support around the treatment. In any event, several patients have sourced top-ups independently considering that the first trial, as their depression has returned.