A chemical found in magic mushrooms could unlock a new treatment to depression, a new study in the U.K. suggests.
The power hallucinogenic chemical is called psilocybin, which have had positive effects on animals in previous studies.
In this small controlled study, researchers at Imperial College London used psilocybin on 12 people with “treatment-resistant depression”. These patients are defined by suffering from moderate to severe depression, but find no relief from courses of medications and psychotherapy.
The patients took magic mushrooms twice, a week in between doses. Under doctor’s supervision, they observed the 12 people experience an “inner “journey” of “altered states of consciousness”. A week later, every patient showed improvements in their depression.
At the three-month point, seven patients continued to show an improvement in symptoms, and five who were in remission.
The authors warned that due to the small sample size, claiming magic mushrooms is a definite deterrence to depression is ambitious. But they feel it does prove their findings suggest that more research is needed.
“This is the first time that psilocybin has been investigated as a potential treatment for major depression,” lead author Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris said in a news release.
Magic mushrooms may be effective due to psilocybin targeting the serotonin receptors in the brain, which is what antidepressants do. They also act faster and more efficiently than antidepressants.
Philip Cowen, a professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Oxford, is skeptical. He just doesn’t feel a 90-day period is sufficient to draw conclusions from.
“The data at three-month follow-up (a comparatively short time in patients with extensive illness duration) are promising but not completely compelling, with about half the group showing significant depressive symptoms. Further follow-ups using detailed qualitative interviews with patients and family could be very helpful in enriching the assessment.”