17 May, 2016
For more than a decade, magic mushrooms have been illegal in the UK – but the hallucinogenic fungi could offer hope for people suffering from treatment-resistant depression.
Patients – some of whom had been depressed for decades – all found that their symptoms reduced after a week after taking a large dose of psilocybin, currently classified Class A.
Eight of the 12 volunteers (67%) achieved full remission after a week and were temporarily liberated from their demons.
Three months after swallowing psilocybin capsules, seven patients continued to show an improvement and of these five remained depression-free.
The treatment involved a high dose of psilocybin, equivalent to eating several magic mushrooms- and enough to make the patients ‘trip’.
Lead scientist Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, from Imperial College London, said: ‘These experiences with psilocybin can be incredibly profound. Sometimes people have what they describe as mystical or spiritual-type experiences – that’s not uncommon, particularly with the high dose. So it’s important that we provide psychological support afterwards.
‘We didn’t see anything unexpected and the adverse effects were mostly things that we predicted and were relatively mild. Nevertheless, the limitation of this treatment is the acute experience itself. It can be… psychologically challenging.’
The scientists, whose findings are reported in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry, hope to obtain funding for a larger randomly controlled trial which would compare the effects of psilocybin with those of an inactive ‘dummy’ drug or other form of treatment.
One member of the team, former drug tsar Professor David Nutt, hailed the study as a ‘landmark’ but lashed out at the ‘Kafkaesque’ restrictions that made it so difficult to conduct research on psilocybin.
Because of the regulations and red tape, ‘it cost £1,500 to dose each patient when in any sane world it might have cost £30’, said Prof Nutt.