Psilocybin, the main ingredient in “magic mushrooms”, can alleviate the symptoms of depression, according to a very preliminary study.
Study leader Robin Carhart-Harris, the head of psychedelic research at Imperial College, said in a statement “Based on what we know from various brain-imaging studies with psychedelics, as well as taking heed of what people say about their experiences, it may be that psychedelics do indeed ‘reset’ the brain networks associated with depression, effectively enabling them to be lifted from the depressed state.”
But the treatment is not ready for primetime yet. Without a control group, the researchers cannot be sure that the patients did not experience a placebo effect alone. Instead, they wrote, the study should be seen as a first step toward exploring psychedelic drugs as a treatment for depression. More work is also needed to investigate any interactions between psilocybin and other factors in treatment, such as therapeutic support, they wrote.
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Still, this isn’t the first research to suggest that psilocybin has benefits for people with depression.
In 2011, a similar small study found that one year after taking psilocybin, participants reported greater life satisfaction and well-being, as well as increased spirituality and improved family relationships. Psilocybin appears to instill a sense of belonging and meaning, which could be a boon to mental health, those researchers told Live Science at the time.
Also in 2011, researchers reported that an experience with psilocybin opened people more open to new experiences at least a year later – a fundamental personality change that is rare in psychology. Psilocybin has also been shown to help people shed feelings of rejection.
However, the hallucinogen can also have dangerous side effects.
A 2017 study conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that of more than 2,000 people who had a “ bad trip ” with psilocybin, 10 percent felt that they had been a danger to themselves or others during their episode.
Roland Griffiths, a psychopharmacologist at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine, said in a statement about that research, “Considering both the negative effects and the positive outcomes that respondents sometimes reported, the survey results confirm our view that neither users nor researchers can be cavalier about the risks associated with psilocybin.”