The research compared the effects of psilocybin, the active ingredient within magic mushrooms that gives them their psychedelic effect, with a conventional antidepressant drug.
The active ingredient within magic mushrooms that gives them their psychedelic effect, psilocybin, could potentially be as good as, if not better than a leading drug that is currently used to treat depression, a new study has suggested.
Researchers from Imperial College London, has compared the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms with a six-week course of an antidepressant called escitalopram in 59 people who suffer with moderate to severe levels of depression.
The study’s 59 participants aged 18 to 80, 66% of whom were men and 88% of whom were white, were split into two treatment groups. One received daily antidepressants and two very small doses of psilocybin during the sessions; the other received daily placebo pills in place of the antidepressants and two heavy doses of psilocybin during the sessions.
Describing the results as being “promising”, they found that, while depression levels had been reduced in both groups, the reductions occurred more quickly within the psilocybin group and were even greater in magnitude.
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However they warned that the small scale of this study meant that more significant scientific trials were needed to establish whether psilocybin from magic mushrooms was as effective as the more conventional antidepressants over a longer length of time.
During the study, 30 of the volunteers received an initial dose of psilocybin (25mg) at the start of the trial period, which was followed by a second dose (25mg) that they received three weeks later.
They were given six weeks of the daily placebo capsules to take.
In the escitalopram arm of the trial, 29 people had received 1mg of psilocybin at the dosing sessions, a dose so low as to be classed as non-active and is unlikely to have any effect.
They also received six weeks of daily escitalopram capsules.
For the psilocybin dosing sessions, which had lasted six hours, volunteers received an oral dose of the drug.
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During these sessions they listened to a playlist of music, which included emotionally evocative and atmospheric sounds as well as some ambient and neoclassical sounds.
The participants were then guided through their experiences by a specialist psychological support team, which had included registered psychiatrists.
Professor David Nutt, Edmond J Safra Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, said that: “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.
“So the total is six hours, but it’s not six hours of tripping.”