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People whose depression had failed to respond to standard treatments showed some improvements in their symptoms after turning to a drug not available at your corner pharmacy: a component of “magic mushrooms” that causes psychedelic experiences, according to a new study.

The research, published Tuesday in the Lancet Psychiatry, in no way shows that people with depression should start popping shrooms. It featured no control group that was given a placebo that would allow for a comparison, and only had 12 study subjects — too few to draw any sort of real conclusions.

But scientists said the new paper adds to the sense that the component of the mushrooms, called psilocybin, should be investigated further in the types of large, controlled studies that could show what kinds of effects — both good and bad — it might produce and in which patients it could be beneficial.


“It really simply provides the impetus that we need to explore this field further, including more rigorously controlled studies,” said Dr. Charles Grob, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved with the study.

From the 1950s to 1970, doctors often used hallucinogens to treat anxiety and depression before the practice fell out of fashion. In recent years, however, the street drug ketamine has gained recognition in medical circles as a possible long-acting antidepressant, and psilocybin has shown preliminary promise as a therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder, tobacco and alcohol addiction, and anxiety in people with advanced cancer. The initial studies also suggest that psilocybin is safe for patients to take at appropriate doses.


For the new study — the first to test psilocybin as a treatment for depression — 12 people who had been clinically depressed for a long time with no relief from existing treatments received 10 milligrams of psilocybin orally and then 25 milligrams a week later at the Hammersmith Hospital in London. After three months, seven of the participants reported reduced symptoms, and some patients also saw their anxiety levels drop.

The authors noted, however, that the patients sought to participate in the study, so it is possible the positive results they reported were a result of them wanting the treatment to work.

As for the psychedelic effects, they typically wore off after six hours. All patients also had some temporary anxiety as the drug kicked in, and some patients also experienced headaches, confusion, and nausea that typically cleared up within a few hours.

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