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Photography Matthijs B, via Unsplash

Psilocybin is as effective in treating depression as antidepressants

A recent Imperial College London study found that psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, has similar benefits to traditional antidepressants

Psilocybin, AKA the active compound in magic mushrooms, has been proven to be as effective as antidepressants, according to new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine

“Our previous research in treatment-resistant depression and as well as human brain scanning strongly suggested the therapeutic potential of psilocybin. Pitting psilocybin in a head to head versus a conventional antidepressant felt like a brave and interesting test to do,” said study author Robin Carhart-Harris, the head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London.

The researchers recruited 59 men and women between the ages of 18 and 80 years who suffered from moderate-to-severe depression for their six-week trial. 30 patients were randomly assigned to the psilocybin group, while the remaining 29 patients were assigned to the escitalopram (SSRI) group.

The results were measured using a standardised scale of depression symptom severity, called the Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology. At the start of the trial, the mean score was 14.5 out of 27 for the psilocybin group and 16.4 for the escitalopram group. After six weeks, scores reduced by an average of 8.0 points for those in the psilocybin group and 6.0 points for those in the escitalopram group.

“Psilocybin therapy appears to be at least as effective as a leading conventional antidepressant and is faster acting with a reassuring safety profile when given by professional therapists,” Carhart-Harris told PsyPost.

The researchers also found that patients in the escitalopram group were more likely to report side effects such as anxiety, dry mouth, sexual dysfunction, and reduced emotional responsiveness. Patients in the psilocybin group reported greater improvements in the ability to cry and feel compassion, intense emotion, and pleasure.

The initial findings are certainly encouraging, but Carhart-Harris notes: “A bigger trial with a straight placebo condition would have further helped to clarify results and our interpretation of them.”

Nevertheless, previous studies have shown that one dose of magic mushrooms can reduce symptoms of depression for as long as five years, while others have shown the effectiveness of psychedelics in making you more tolerant in distressing situations.