A small study of adults with major depression has found that 2 doses of psilocybin, a psychedelic substance, produced fast and significant reductions in depressive symptoms, with half of the study participants achieving remission for several weeks of follow-up.

Although previous studies have had similar findings, the authors said in a press release that their findings suggest psilocybin may be effective in a much wider population of patients suffering from major depression than previously believed. Psilocybin is a compound found in so-called “magic mushrooms,” which produces visual and auditory hallucinations as well as changes in consciousness over a few hours after ingestion.

“Because there are several types of major depressive disorders that may result in variation in how people respond to treatment, I was surprised that most of our study participants found the psilocybin treatment to be effective,” said researcher Roland Griffiths, PhD, in a press release.

In the study, investigators recruited 24 participants with a long-term documented history of depression, most of whom experienced persistent symptoms for approximately 2 years before enrolling. The average age was 39 years, with 16 women and 22 participants identifying themselves as white. The participants had to taper off any antidepressants prior to the study with the help of their personal physician in order to ensure safe exposure to psilocybin.

Thirteen participants received the psilocybin treatment immediately after recruitment and following preparation sessions, and 11 received the same preparation and treatment after an 8-week delay. The published findings cover a 4-week follow-up period after the participants underwent 2 separate 5-hour psilocybin sessions under the direction of the researchers. The doses were given 2 weeks apart between August 2017 and August 2019, with the participants lying on a couch wearing eyeshades and headphones that played music.

All participants were given the GRID-Hamilton Depression Rating Scale at enrollment and at 1 and 4 weeks following completion of the treatment. On the scale, a score of 24 or more indicates severe depression, 17 to 23 indicates moderate depression, 8 to 16 indicates mild depression, and 7 or less indicates no depression. At enrollment, the patients had an average depression scale rating of 23, but at 1 and 4 weeks after treatment they had an average score of 8.

For the entire group, 67% showed a more than 50% reduction in depression symptoms at the 1-week follow-up and 71% at the 4-week follow-up. Overall, at 4 weeks post-treatment, 54% of participants were considered in remission, according to the press release.

“The magnitude of the effect we saw was about 4 times larger than what clinical trials have shown for the traditional antidepressants on the market,” said Alan Davis, PhD, adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in the press release. “Because most other depression treatments take weeks or months to work and may have undesirable effects, this could be a game changer if these findings hold up in future ‘gold-standard’ placebo-controlled clinical trials.”

REFERENCE
Psychedelic Treatment with Psilocybin Relieves Major Depression, Study Shows [news release]. Johns Hopkins Medicine; November 4, 2020. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/newsroom/news-releases/psychedelic-treatment-with-psilocybin-relieves-major-depression-study-shows. Accessed November 4, 2020.