What The Science Knows About Psilocybin Treatment For Depression And How Patients Respond To It

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What The Science Knows About Psilocybin Treatment For Depression And How Patients Respond To It
What The Science Knows About Psilocybin Treatment For Depression And How Patients Respond To It

Video: What The Science Knows About Psilocybin Treatment For Depression And How Patients Respond To It

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Video: The science of psilocybin and its use to relieve suffering 2023, January
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What the science knows about psilocybin treatment for depression and how patients respond to it

The FDA has given the hallucinogenic substance psilocybin the status of a groundbreaking drug for the treatment of major depressive disorder. Let's remember what scientists have already learned about the effectiveness of this substance in depression and what experiences are shared by patients who have undergone experimental treatment.

What the science knows about psilocybin treatment for depression and how patients respond to it
What the science knows about psilocybin treatment for depression and how patients respond to it

Photo: CC BY-SA 3.0 /

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the hallucinogenic substance psilocybin a new drug status, New Atlas reports. The agency will help accelerate research and approval of this substance as a drug for major depressive disorder.

Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic substance found in many types of mushrooms called psilocybin or hallucinogenic. In Russia, it is included in List I of narcotic drugs, the circulation of which is prohibited. Similar precautions have been taken in other countries. But interest in the medicinal properties of psilocybin has grown rapidly in recent years.

The Phase II study of treatment for major depressive disorder that has caught the attention of the FDA this time is being conducted in the United States. In it, scientists observe how a single dose of psilocybin affects the course of the disease. The test is expected to end in 2021. This is the second time in a year that this substance has received FDA breakthrough drug status. It was first assigned to an experimental drug in 2018 in connection with its research for treatment-resistant depression.

The clinical study that ushered in the modern era of psilocybin for depression was completed in 2016. Its authors faced many restrictions due to the illegal status of the substance. In the findings of the scientific work, the scientists reported that psilocybin was well tolerated by all patients. Among the side effects, the authors named anxiety and slight confusion at the time of the onset of the drug. Symptoms of depression, including anhedonia, and anxiety subsided in 12 patients by 3 months.

Kirk Rutter, one of the volunteers who participated in the study, reported that there were "difficult moments" during the treatment. For example, when, during therapy, he remembered his feelings from the last days with his dying mother.

“During the high-dose treatment session, I visualized my grief as an ulcer, which I do not allow to heal because I cannot connect with my mother. Passing through the memories and through the feeling of love in our relationship, I saw that when I let go of the sadness, the memories remain."

After 3 years, he said he hoped psilocybin would become available as a legal drug. He does not consider it a "magic bullet", but thinks it is a medicine "that gives patients a deep truth and makes them follow it."

Another participant in the study, Melissa Alvin, says the treatment gave her the resilience she lost after the death of her father and the painful separation from her partner.

“I was really everywhere [during the psilocybin trip]. In the most beautiful places, like an arcade of light shimmering through trees, in the ocean, in waterfalls. I did not remember the time and I just wanted it to continue forever. For so long I felt my depression as a part of myself, there was nothing I could do to change it. Antidepressants only made me sleepy, I just stopped caring about anything. But it completely broke my psychic shackles. I went back to work and I was euphoric. I felt: I can do it, I can change the situation,”she said.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London, lead author of the study, warned that self-medication with this method is not acceptable:

“Psychedelic drugs have powerful psychological effects, and in our study they were used only with appropriate safety measures such as close observation and professional therapeutic support. I would not want people to think that they can cure their depression by collecting magic mushrooms. This approach can be risky."

A 2016 study by Johns Hopkins University included 51 patients with life-threatening cancers. Then psilocybin helped 80% of dying patients to cope with depression. A New York University study that also included cancer patients showed similar results.

In a scientific paper published in 2017, scientists observed the effects of psilocybin using instrumental methods. Patients with treatment-resistant depression received 2 doses of the substance. MRI scans showed a slight decrease in blood flow in areas of the brain that are involved in processing emotional responses, stress, and fear. Immediately after starting treatment, study participants experienced relief from symptoms and improved mood. In about half of them, the effects persisted for several weeks.

“I have become a different person. I couldn't wait until I could get dressed and get out into the world around me, see people. I was extremely self-confident, closer to the state that I had in my youth, before depression,”- one of the study participants told the Guardian about his experience.

Robin Carat-Harris, head of the Center for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, believes psilocybin has a chance of becoming a drug within 5 years or less. “By then, it will be impossible to ignore the evidence,” he says.

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