OAKLAND – Psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic” mushrooms, has long been celebrated for its potential to be used as an alternative to powerful pharmaceutical drugs in the treatment of mental health conditions, and new research may help move the needle forward. According to a small, early-stage study conducted by Imperial College London’s Centre for Psychedelic Research, psilocybin is as effective at treating symptoms of depression as traditional selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Scientists administered psilocybin or the drug escitalopram to 59 participants over a six-week period, measuring mood and functioning. Patients were asked about their sleep quality, appetite, whether they were sad, and if they had suicidal thoughts. All of the participants reported feeling less depressed, regardless of which group they were in.
Interestingly, those in the psilocybin group performed better at other secondary measures such as work and social functioning, mental well-being and the ability to feel happy. They also had fewer side effects typically associated with antidepressant use, such as dry mouth, lethargy, and sexual dysfunction. All patients received therapy in addition to their respective substances.
The study’s authors insist that while the results are promising, there is still a long way to go before psilocybin finds itself beside mainstream mental health treatments. They also believe therapy was an important factor in the patients’ reports.
“It’s not the drug alone. We’re not sure the drug alone would have an intrinsic antidepressant effect,” Professor David Nutt, a co-author of the study, told the BBC.
That’s not to say psilocybin on its own isn’t an antidepressant, it’s just too early to tell. However, more studies are currently underway to help explore the compound’s potential further. It’s likely future research will truly unlock the mysteries of magic mushrooms and perhaps legitimize their use.
Participants in the study will receive follow-ups within six months of their treatment to see if the effects lasted. Anecdotal reports of psilocybin consumers often indicate profound impacts for long periods of time after even one dose.
The study, while small, is a step in the right direction toward legitimizing psychedelic medicine while furthering the need for more comprehensive research.