In Brief

How magic mushroom medicine could treat depression

Active ingredient psilocybin is found to have no harmful effects in its first clinical trial

The active ingredient in magic mushrooms has passed the first of the clinical trials designed to see if it can one day be used to treat depression.

In the largest-ever study so far on the chemical, called psilocybin, scientists at King’s College London (KCL) found that in reasonable doses, it was “safe and well tolerated when given to healthy volunteers”.

Previous smaller studies have suggested that psilocybin “helps to alleviate depressive symptoms”, says the Financial Times, “but these were not the larger placebo-controlled trials needed to convince medical opinion – and regulators – that it is a safe and effective treatment”, the paper adds.

Psilocybin is an illegal substance in most countries and can “bring on profound hallucinations, rapid mood changes and a dream-like state of altered perception of time and space which can last for around six hours”, says The Telegraph.

The trial involved 89 subjects, who were not suffering with depression, and the team at KCL studied the effects of a placebo against doses of either 10mg or 25mg of psilocybin.

New Atlas notes that the initial administration of the chemical “resulted in acute psychedelic effects”, but these reportedly “resolved swiftly within hours, suggesting the drug does not cause residual negative psychoactive symptoms in the days or weeks following a dose”.

No serious adverse effects were reported for 12 weeks after the trial.

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“Changes in sensory perception and positive mood alteration” were among the most frequent reactions doctors noted in the trial, and Bloomberg reports that the study’s findings are “drawing researchers’ attention as a potential treatment for more than just depression”.

“Scientists are seeking to enlist patients to test the chemical for ailments including Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and migraines,” it says.

James Rucker, lead investigator on the study from KCL, said: “The results of the study are clinically reassuring and support further development of psilocybin as a treatment for patients with mental health problems that haven’t improved with conventional therapy, such as treatment resistant depression,” the Financial Times reports.

The psilocybin used in the trial was manufactured by London start-up Compass Pathways and not extracted from magic mushrooms. A phase-2 clinical trial will test 216 patients with depression from Europe and North America, with results expected in 2021.

Some people suffering with depression use illicit magic mushrooms as a form of treatment. But experts have warned against this practice as users “run the risk of taking the wrong dosage and experiencing harmful side effects”.

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