health

Psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms ‘promising’ for treating depression


T

he psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms may be at least as effective as a leading antidepressant medication in a therapeutic setting, a new study suggests.

Researchers compared the therapeutic potential of psilocybin – found in the mushrooms – with a six-week course of the antidepressant escitalopram in 59 people with moderate to severe depression.

They found that, while depression scores were reduced in both groups, the reductions occurred more quickly in the psilocybin group and were greater in magnitude.

However, they warned that the main comparison between psilocybin and the antidepressant was not statistically significant.

They said larger trials with more patients over a longer period are needed to show if the compound can perform as well as, or more effectively than, an established antidepressant.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, who designed and led the study, said: “One of the most important aspects of this work is that people can clearly see the promise of properly delivered psilocybin therapy by viewing it compared with a more familiar, established treatment in the same study.

“Psilocybin performed very favourably in this head to head.”

For the psilocybin dosing sessions, which lasted six hours, volunteers received an oral dose of the drug.

During the sessions they listened to a curated music playlist, which included emotionally evocative and atmospheric sounds as well as ambient and neoclassical sounds.

The participants were guided through their experiences by a psychological support team, which included registered psychiatrists.

Professor David Nutt, Edmond J Safra Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, said: “The effect builds up over about 30 to 40 minutes, and then, for most people, the duration effect is about three to four hours, and then it wears off.



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