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Magic mushroom could help treat depression, passes first clinical safety trial

The active ingredient, psilocybin, in magic mushroom could be safely used to treat depression where traditional medications have failed.

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Bengaluru: A new British study has suggested that magic mushroom, a common recreational psychedelic, could be used to treat depression. The trial was conducted by King’s College London and mental healthcare company COMPASS Pathways on 89 healthy adult volunteers.

The active psychedelic ingredient in magic mushroom, psilocybin, is known to alter moods.

The study had compared the effects of 10 mg and 25 mg of psilocybin as well as a placebo on the volunteers. It found that when the compound was administered with a 1:1 psychological support session from an assisting therapist, no adverse or negative impact on cognitive and emotional functioning occurred. It led to a positive mood alteration.

Dr James Rucker, a consultant psychiatrist and senior clinical lecturer in psychopharmacology at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, said, “This is the largest controlled study of psilocybin to date. The results of the study are clinically reassuring and support further development of psilocybin as a treatment for patients with mental health problems that haven’t improved with conventional therapy, such as treatment resistant depression.”

The research was double-blind — meaning both volunteers and researchers weren’t aware if the administered product was a placebo or the actual drug. Each therapy session lasted for about six hours. There were a total of 25 dosing sessions, each involving six participants.

The study also included a follow-up period of 12 weeks to monitor any changes in the participants’ mental health and behaviour.

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Psychedelic compounds and its medicinal use

Usage of recreational drugs, notably marijuana, for medicinal purposes has gained momentum in the past few years. The Johns Hopkins University has even set up its own centre for psychedelic and consciousness research this year.

While psychedelic compounds have shown medical potential, their effect on human brains are yet to be fully understood. It is only known that these compounds activate specific receptors in the brain that are normally only triggered by serotonin, known as the ‘happy hormone’. But it is still unclear how they cause hallucinations since serotonin does not make us hallucinate.

Low levels of serotonin is linked to depression and unhappiness.

In 2018, COMPASS received the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Breakthrough Therapy designation for its programme of psilocybin therapy in treatment-resistant depression.

Dr Ekaterina Malievskaia, the chief innovation officer and co-founder of COMPASS Pathways, said in a statement: “This study is part of our overall clinical development programme in treatment-resistant depression; we wanted to look at the safety and tolerability profile of our psilocybin, and to look at the feasibility of a model where up to six 1:1 sessions are held at the same time.”

The results from phase I of the study, including data on safety and feasibility of simultaneous 1:1 administration, were presented this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP). The company’s phase 2b study is currently underway across Europe and North America involving 216 patients suffering from depression who are unresponsive to traditional medications.

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