The Cure for Depression Might Have Just Been Found in a Class A Drug
Depression is a mental illness that affects millions of people the world over, and so far, there is no definitive cure. There are certain treatment options, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and a range of prescribed anti-depressants. But what about when these options don’t work? Well, that’s what a research project over at Imperial College London has been trying to figure out. And the answer could lie hidden inside one of the world’s most famous narcotic substances; Magic Mushrooms.
12 patients (six men, six women), all with treatment resistant depression were administered two oral doses of Magic Mushrooms’ active substance, psilocybin. Psilocybin is the chemical found within many different types of wild mushrooms that cause the sensory hallucinations we associate with ‘shrooms’. The results? Well they were surprisingly positive. The acute symptoms of depression had been lifted for three weeks in every single participant, and in the case of some of the patients, they had been kept away for up to three months. Due to the size of the study, and the fact that there was no control group, the results do not provide any definitive proof of psilocybin’s use as a treatment for depression. That being said, it is still a monumental breakthrough in the medical war against treatment resistant depression. Perhaps better summed up in the study’s report: “This study provides preliminary support for the safety and efficacy of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression and motivates further trials, with more rigorous designs, to better examine the therapeutic potential of this approach”.
So where do we go from here? Does everyone suffering with depression simply drop everything and go pick up some mushrooms? Well, no, not exactly. The study’s lead author: Dr Robin Carhart-Harris warned against people attempting to self medicate with a substance that is classified as ‘Class A’ under British law: “Psychedelic drugs have potent psychological effects and are only given in our research when appropriate safeguards are in place, such as careful screening and professional therapeutic support. I wouldn’t want members of the public thinking they can treat their own depression by picking their own magic mushrooms. That kind of approach could be risky.”
The use of prohibited substances for clinical trials is obviously fraught with legal and administrative complications – for this study alone it took 30 months to obtain the psilocybin, and cost roughly £1,500 to dose each patient.
So what are we left with? Well, what this small-scale study may be, is a beacon of hope, the first rung of the ladder towards the cure for depression. These results can now allow researchers to carry out further, larger scale tests and studies to truly understand the nature of these powerful psychoactive substances, as well as get to grips with their relationship with mental health. And who knows, maybe one day in the future the NHS will prescribe psilocybin to people who are out of treatment options for their depression. For now though, these findings remain a flicker of light at the end of a very dark tunnel.