Depression, a common but serious mood disorder, may now be cured with a hallucinogenic chemical that is found in magic mushrooms, shows a short study on just 12 people.
The new study, at Imperial College, London, may especially hold promise for people with untreatable depression.
The findings were published in the Lancet Psychiatry.
The study revealed that eight out of twelve patients were no longer depressed after the “mystical and spiritual” experience induced in them by the drug. Also, five of the patients remained free of depression after three months.
However, experts welcomed the findings of the research study as “promising, but not completely compelling”.
Cure For Untreatable Depression
Under the study, the researchers gave patients a low dose of psilocybin, the hallucinogenic chemical found in magic mushrooms, to test for safety. They were then given a very high dose that was equivalent to “a lot of mushrooms”.
The psychedelic experience that the participants felt lasted up to six hours, peaking after the first two hours. It was accompanied by classical music and followed by psychological support.
Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, one of the researchers, said,
“These experiences with psilocybin can be incredibly profound, sometimes people have what they describe as mystical or spiritual-type experiences.”
Most patients experienced a rapid dip in their depressive symptoms. However, the dip was accompanied with side-effects that included anxiety, nausea and headaches.
Dr Carhart-Harris said,
“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.”
Lubricant For The Depressed Mind
Fellow researcher Prof David Nutt said that the drug acted as a “lubricant for the mind” that “liberates” the patient.
He added that the psilocybin attacked the receptors in the brain that normally responded to the hormone serotonin.
The researchers told the BBC that the improvement might be due to the placebo effect.
Dr Carhart-Harris said “this isn’t a magic cure, we shouldn’t infer too much” until larger trials had taken place.
Prof Philip Cowen, from the University of Oxford, said,
“The key observation that might eventually justify the use of a drug like psilocybin in treatment-resistant depression is demonstration of sustained benefit in patients who previously have experienced years of symptoms despite conventional treatments, which makes longer-term outcomes particularly important.
“The data at three-month follow-up, a comparatively short time in patients with extensive illness duration, are promising, but not completely compelling.”
The Beckley Foundation and the UK’s Medical Research Council backed the research.
Experts have now called for the drug to be tested in larger trials.