A study published in the Journal of American Medicine suggests that one dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can have a significant positive effect on participants living with major depressive disorder. 

The randomised, double-blind study was undertaken by a team of scientists from institutions including Yale University, Johns Hopkins University, San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine. 

Motivation for the study was in part due to the large amount of interest in the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, specifically psilocybin, and the realisation that traditional antidepressants have limitations.

Taking place over six weeks between December 2019 and June 2022 the study involved 104 participants who were randomly selected into a group given either a one-off 25mg dose of psilocybin or a placebo containing niacin. 

Participants were screened prior to the beginning of the study using the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS), a score of 28 or more was a prerequisite for inclusion. Participants were assessed again on day 8 after treatment using MADRS. The difference in scores was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment. 

Treatment sessions were carefully constructed by the team to help provide a ‘set and setting’ atmosphere. This process is described by the authors: “All set and setting sessions (e.g., preparatory, dosing, integration) were protocolized and communicated via instructions in a manual for clinical facilitators. During the dosing session, participants were encouraged to wear eyeshades and listen to a curated playlist on headphones. Lead facilitators were doctoral-level psychologists or physicians with MDD treatment experience and co-facilitators who held a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a mental health–related field.”

Results of the study showed a marked difference in major depressive symptom relief for participants in the group who received psilocybin, compared to the group who received niacin. 

The average MADRS score for the whole group at the initial screening was 35, after 8 days those who received psilocybin saw their scores drop by an average of 19 points, whereas scores for those who had niacin dropped only by an average of 7. 

The authors wrote in their conclusion, “Psilocybin treatment was associated with a clinically significant sustained reduction in depressive symptoms and functional disability, without serious adverse events. These findings add to increasing evidence that psilocybin—when administered with psychological support—may hold promise as a novel intervention for MDD.”

This research builds on previous studies in which similar results have been produced. In May this year, a study from the University of Pennsylvania also administered a single dose of psilocybin to participants who experienced the same outcome.

Psilocybin treats symptoms of major depression after just one dose, study shows

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