2019 was a banner year for acceptance and interest in psychedelic substances and for psilocybin in particular. Psilocybin is the psychoactive ingredient in “magic” mushrooms and cultures and individuals worldwide have been benefiting from its effects for thousands of years. Thanks to a constant and energetic push by small groups dedicated individuals in Denver and Oakland, legislation passed decriminalizing the possession and use of mushrooms of this type, and other cities or even states, like Oregon, may soon follow suit.
As a result, more people are becoming interested in these substances and although they are not legal for sale nor federally approved, the idea of people voluntarily involving themselves in psychedelic experiences is becoming more widely accepted. Further, the decriminalization has opened up a great deal of discussion about the potential benefits of psilocybin in mental health treatment.
Read on to learn more about the ways that psilocybin may be used to help people, and how it has recently become a few steps closer to being available to that end.
For decades, many psychologists have expressed beliefs that psilocybin experiences can be immensely helpful in treating patients with a wide variety of issues if administered in a controlled setting and if followed by therapy and discussion. One area in which it seems great strides could be made is in the realm of depression treatment.
Although everyone feels sad sometimes, major depression, or major depressive disorder, is much more than normal, occasional feelings of feeling down. People who suffer from depression suffer in the long term, and also experience additional side effects such as low energy, loss of appetite, lack of interest in things that used to bring pleasure, strained relationships, and more.
Unfortunately, according to some sources, it’s estimated that as many as 16.2 million adults in the United States experience at least one major depressive episode in a given year. This figure is the equivalent of 6.7 percent of American adults.
As anyone who has suffered from depression can tell you, it can be overwhelming and devastating and can effect every aspect of an individual’s life. Although for most, these episodes go away in time, the amount of time can be and feel lengthy and unbearable.
Current standard treatment for depression usually includes a combination of therapy and medication. For some people, this pairing works, but for others, it does not. Further, many people would prefer not to take medication at all, or are willing but do not like the side effects that many medications bring.
Psilocybin & Depression
Although some therapists and psychologists and even psychiatrists may believe that psilocybin can treat depression effectively, there have been few studies on the topic. Much of the information out there is anecdotal, as most professionals fear revocation of their licenses if they provide therapy that by most locations’ standards is illegal. However, one new study offers some hope.
A Recent Study
A recent study conducted by King’s College London in partnership with the mental healthcare company Compass Pathways is getting a lot of attention. This study administered psilocybin to eight-nine adult volunteers. Each participant was given 10mg, 25mg, or a placebo. This first part of the study’s goal was to observe these individuals and to keep an eye out for adverse effects.
The study found that psilocybin did not cause any negative effects on the subjects, and there were no serious adverse events during the experience. Most volunteers reported changes in sensory perception and positive mood alteration, which were expected effects, and had nothing negative to say about their experience.
The next part of this study is where the important work will begin. The second phase trial will include over two hundred subjects, all of whom are suffering from depression, in both Europe and in North America. It will be interesting to see the results when the study is complete.
An Earlier Study
Another study in the same vein has already been completed. This study was completed in 2016 by The Beckley Foundation and the results of it were published in Lancet Psychiatry. Although this study was quite small, and only included twenty participants, its findings were positive and a great start towards making psilocybin for depression available for all who want to try it.
The researchers in this study gave oral psilocybin doses to twenty patients with treatment-resistant depression. All of them had suffered depressive periods for an average of eighteen years, and all had tried at least two other methods of relief without much success. Each subject received two doses of psilocybin, seven days apart, and worked with psychological support before, during, and after each dose.
In follow up sessions conducted at five weeks, three months, and six months, positive results were reported. After just one week, 67% of participants reported almost complete eradication of depression symptoms, and 42% remained depression-free at the three-month mark.
By anyone’s standards, these results are amazing, and it will be exciting to see if the larger study by King’s College London with Compass Pathways experiences similar or comparable results.
Both of these studies offer a great deal of hope for patients and professionals hoping to use psilocybin to treat depression in the future. If researchers are able to prove the effectiveness of these treatments through clinical studies, soon more and more people in the mental health field will begin to take notice. In time, psilocybin may become legal nation and worldwide and many more people will have the opportunity to experience the benefits.
Why It Works
“Magic” mushrooms have long been associated with hippies “tripping out” at parties and concerts, and because of that, there are many skeptics to the broad benefits they may offer. However, the reasons that psilocybin treatment might be effective for people suffering from depression are easy to understand.
Pharmaceutical anti-depressants work by raising levels of serotonin in the brain in order to elevate mood. This elevation is temporary and individuals taking anti-depressants must continue to take them if they wish to experience continued effects. Further, they don’t work for everyone.
On the other hand, even a single experience with a psychedelic substance like psilocybin alters brain function, and that effect can be used to the benefit of the user, especially when the experience is accompanied by therapy and discussion with a psychological professional. Psychedelics help to relieve patients from deeply-rooted, repetitive beliefs about oneself that can cause and encourage depressive patterns. New insights often come to light during a psychedelic experience that can change an individual’s thinking, and in turn, can decrease depressive episodes quickly and in the long term over time.
Hope for the Future
Although widespread approval and acceptance of psilocybin treatment for mental health are still probably quite a long way away, studies like the two described above are taking the first bold steps into investigating and normalizing it. Hopefully, someday psilocybin will be proven effective for the treatment of depression and soon after will be available to all who need it. Only time will tell, but the door is now open, and that is a good thing for anyone suffering from depression.
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Dr. Sola is one of the world’s leading experts in medically-based ibogaine treatment; he has more clinical experience with safe and effective ibogaine administration than any other M.D. in the world today.