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Magic mushrooms could help depression

A small study has been called “promising” as people with “untreatable depression” showed signs of improvement after experiencing the hallucinogen

A small study found that magic mushrooms have the potential to help people with untreatable depression.

With 12 participants, nine had been diagnosed with severe depression, while three were moderately depressed. After a “mystical and spiritual” experience taking the drug, eight patients were no longer depressed according to the Lancet Psychiatry. After three months, five still showed no signs of depression.

There’s now a possibility this will become a bigger trial using more participants, as experts claimed it was ‘promising, but not completely compelling”.

The Imperial College London-based study began by administering participants with psilocybin – the hallucinogenic in shrooms – in a small dosage for safety. Researchers then provided a higher dose with “a lot of mushrooms”. The high lasted around six hours and patients listened to classical music during their stay, with psychological support offered afterwards.

Each person involved in the trial had unsuccessfully attempted at least two other treatments for their depression.

A researcher involved with the trial, Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, said: “These experiences with psilocybin can be incredibly profound, sometimes people have what they describe as mystical or spiritual-type experiences.”

“Seeing effect sizes of this magnitude is very promising, they are very large effect sizes in any available treatment for depression. We now need larger trials to understand whether the effects we saw in this study translate into long-term benefits.”

Another researcher, professor David Nutt, observed that the negative thoughts that characterise depression could be lifted as the drug acted as a “lubricant for the mind”, as psilocybin mimicked the effect of serotonin which lifts mood.

Of course, the absence of any placebo in the trial calls it into question, as it makes it difficult to decipher who is truly benefiting from a psychedelic experience and not the encouraging environment. But even in bigger trials, it would be hard to regulate even with a placebo, because it’s pretty obvious when someone is and isn’t tripping balls. It does however give weight to further and more detailed trials to test it out.

The researchers also explained that they don’t want people going out and trying to medicate themselves with shrooms – so stop right there.

Dr Carhart-Harris said: “Psychedelic drugs have potent psychological effects and are only given in our research when appropriate safeguards are in place, such as careful screening and professional therapeutic support.

“I wouldn’t want members of the public thinking they can treat their own depressions by picking their own magic mushrooms. That kind of approach could be risky.”