More and more research is being done into the potential medicinal benefits of psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin, the active substance in magic mushrooms. A small-scale British study suggests that in a strict medical setting, the drug may work as well against depression as a traditional antidepressant. The participants in the study received intensive psychological guidance.
As early as the 1950s and 1960s, scientists saw salvation in the use of hallucinatory drugs for mental illnesses, such as depression and addiction. After that, however, psychedelics were banned worldwide and research into their therapeutic benefits stalled. But in recent years, the substances have been back in the spotlight in the medical world. The idea is that they can help people think and feel more freely, allowing them to break negative thinking patterns and more easily get to the heart of their problems.
In a recent study, scientists at Imperial College London looked at whether the substance psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, can be useful in treating people with moderate to severe depression. They compared its action to that of a classic antidepressant, escitalopram. A group of 59 subjects participated in the study, about half of which were treated with psilocybin for six weeks and the other half with escitalopram.
Psilocybin was not only found to work as well against depression as the traditional drug, but also offered some additional benefits. It worked faster and on a higher percentage of the participants. It also caused to a lesser extent side effects that are common when taking antidepressants, such as dry mouth, anxiety, drowsiness and sexual disorders. Drugs again depression often caused certain temporary ailments, such as headaches on the day after receiving a dose.
Specifically, psilocybin often helped the subjects to experience pleasure again, express emotions, function socially and generally feel better. Treatment with the drug also succeeded in reducing anxiety and suicidal thoughts. In both groups, participants were able to gain the mental strength to delve deeper into the causes of their depression.
Crucially, the subjects received intensive psychological support, in the form of about 40 hours of psychotherapy. That psychological help was essential not only to come to healing insights, but also because the experiences initiated by psychedelics can be confusing and even frightening.
The researchers stress that psychedelics should only be used in a medical context for depression. Not only is the therapeutic guidance indispensable, but also determining the right doses must be done by medical experts. The scientists also argue that even larger-scale studies are now needed to confirm their results.