First Human Trial Indicates Magic Mushrooms May Beat Depression

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First Human Trial Indicates Magic Mushrooms May Beat Depression

An icon of the swinging 60's, "Magic Mushrooms" were once thought of as the drug of choice for hippies and carefree spirits. However, new research shows psilocybin was effectively used to cure volunteers of long-term depression when prescription medicines had proved ineffective.

A recent study could pave the way for an unprecedented shift in the way we treat depression. The study found, that the use of psilocybin, a psychoactive substance found in mushrooms, helped cure long-term depression. 12 volunteers were given two controlled doses of psilocybin and then asked to complete a questionnaire in the weeks that followed. The questionnaires focused on observing depression symptoms, giving each volunteer a depression rating score.

Eight out of the twelve volunteers showed significantly improved depression rating scores just 1 week after the treatment. At the end of the three-month observation period, 5 of the 12 volunteers reported being free of depression. These results seemed to have accomplished something prescription medication has been attempting for years. When you consider, that psilocybin produces less severe side effects than prescription medication - could Mother Nature be the key to combating depression all along?

Before the desire to start picking the mushrooms at the end of your garden becomes too overwhelming, it is worth looking a the details of the study. Whilst there is no denying how the volunteers felt following the study, the researchers were quick to point out the scale of the trial. 12 volunteers total is nowhere near the amount needed to conclude any concrete hypothesis. Given the way psilocybin affects users and the complexity of the human brain, a significantly larger trial would need to take place. Yet, let us look at the positives to come from the study. This type of research marks a distinct shift in the perception of psilocybin.


The study, completed by researchers from Imperial College London, South London, and Maudsley NHS Trust, King's College London, the Royal London Hospital, and the Beckley Foundation. It was conducted on a sample size of 12 volunteers. Whittled down originally from 72, after the remaining 60 volunteers failed to meet the studies criteria. The criteria required the volunteers be long-term depression sufferers, who had not responded to previous treatments. Two doses of psilocybin were given, both one week apart. The first a minor dose to test for any adverse effects in the volunteers and the second significantly stronger. There were however recorded side effects in a number of the volunteers. Namely, nausea and headaches; this dissipated quickly and didn't carry with it the prolonged side effects, that can sometimes affect patients using prescription medication.

Psilocybin was used because it targets the serotonin receptors in the brain, just as most antidepressants do. Professor David Nutt, who co-authored the study, described the difference in the chemical structure of mushrooms as "being very different to current prescription antidepressants and able to act much faster". The researchers concluded, that this study showed support for “the safety and efficacy of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression and motivates further trials”.

Recorded effects of the psilocybin were extremely positive, but somewhat short-lived. The caveat to this encouraging data was an increasing depression score. The further out the volunteers got from the final dose of psilocybin their score started to increase. This wasn't applicable to all the volunteers, but of the original 12 only 5 reported being free of symptoms linked to depression at the end of the three-month study period.

There is no doubt the initial findings of this study point us in a direction previously unconsidered. Could psilocybin be used to treat what is actually classed as the world's largest disability, depression? The stigma and stereotype, that is associated with tripping out on mushrooms are somewhat to blame for it taking this long to be researched. That and the governmental hurdle of classification. Sanctions from the home office were needed for the researchers to have permission to carry out this study, as mushrooms containing psilocybin are still considered Schedule 1. It is certainly a positive step towards a more natural attempt at relieving the symptoms of depression and will doubtlessly be good news for sufferers like the volunteers who had previously proved unreceptive to current treatments.