I Was Part of a 'Magic Mushrooms' Drug Trial for Treatment-Resistant Depression
In 2020, I took part in a psilocybin trial. Psilocybin is the psychedelic ingredient found in magic mushrooms. The trial was carried out at a London hospital and designed to study the potential benefits of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression — a condition I have struggled with for 55 years. The program consisted of five therapy sessions, a single dosing day, then six weeks of integration therapy where I discussed, with the therapist, my psilocybin experience. The research team running the study were young, forward-thinking psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and therapists — all of whom were into meditation, holotropic breathwork, and the ideas of Carl Jung. Their ethos rested on the edge of new scientific thought, which often appeared to blur the lines between science and metaphysics. But they were also medical professionals collating fact-based evidence in a multi-million dollar drugs trial and would steer my spiritual interpretations of the psilocybin trip towards something more tangible that could be entered into a database.
The Dosing Day
The journey to the hospital that morning felt significant due to a string of strangely synchronistic events. Suffice to say, by the time I’d arrived at the department where the trial was taking place, I already felt as though I had entered the rabbit hole. On arrival, I had my blood pressure and heart rate tested, then taken to a room lit softly by candles and salt lamps. At the foot of the bed, two therapists prepared themselves for the six-hour vigil, observing quietly for the entirety of my trip — intervening only if I needed support or a bathroom break. They told me to “go with whatever came up on the trip.” If I saw a door, I should go through it; if I saw a staircase, I should go up it.”
I took the pills, put my headphones on, and lay on the bed, waiting for the magic to happen.
At first, I felt physically overwhelmed by the experience, even slightly nauseous. My eyes were closed behind an eye mask, yet I could see colorful cartoonesque cogs and shapes twisting and turning and clicking into place. The shapes were hard left and hard right in my mind’s eye, as though my brain was being reordered, reassembled in a bizarrely comical and highly symbolic fashion. During this part of the trip, I tried to take the therapist’s advice to explore the experience, but I was only able to go where the psilocybin took me. It was like the drug understood what I needed and was determined to reconnect my neural pathways in wonderfully important ways, regardless of my preconceived intentions.
At some point, the music became gentler, and I could interact with the experience in the way my therapists had suggested. The colorful, zipping shapes disappeared, as had the nausea. Suddenly, a girl I hadn’t seen since 1976 emerged powerfully in the center of my mind’s eye. We spoke at length about the past, and, as a result, arrived at that somewhat fluffy concept we call “closure.” The music became even softer and my thoughts turned to the metaphysical nature of things. I realized that my lifelong struggle with depression was an important aspect of my spiritual growth and that I could not move forward in life until the nature of its purpose was revealed. I was reminded of the strangely synchronistic run of events that occurred on my journey to the hospital that morning and replayed the events as though watching one of those Hollywood blockbusters when you only see how all the bits are connected at the end of the movie. That’s when you see the bigger picture. And in many ways, that’s exactly how I view my psilocybin experience; as though I’d glimpsed briefly at the bigger picture.
It has been four months since the psilocybin trial, and although I still have the odd day when depression forces me back to bed, these relapses are generally less intense than they used to be. This is extraordinary when compared to traditional medications that are often of marginal benefit and come with a range of negative side effects. I expect that before the end of the decade, psilocybin will be widely available for treatment-resistant depression and other mental health conditions.
Now that I have experienced the expansive new world of psychedelic therapy, my personal lack of faith in traditional psychiatric intervention has solidified. I no longer seek solutions based on the antiquated scope of my local mental health team. Not when I know the answers lay somewhere far beyond their limited reach.
A version of this story was previously published on the author’s blog, Adults With Autism.
Photo by Artur Kornakov on Unsplash