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Could Psychedelic Mushrooms Become a Legitimate Treatment for Depression?

Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Researchers at Imperial College London have discovered that psychedelic mushrooms have properties that can significantly reduce depression.

A new study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine showed promise for psilocybin, the active ingredient in the mushrooms, to treat depression. It compared traditional antidepressants or SSRIs with psilocybin. And the results may surprise you.

In the study, 59 people with moderate to severe depression, split into two groups, were given either the SSRI antidepressant escitalopram (Lexapro) or two high-dose psilocybin over the span of six weeks. The group that took psilocybin saw their symptoms retract very quickly, as early as the next day.

“Remission rates were twice as high in the psilocybin group than the [Lexapro] group,” Dr. Robin Carhart Harris, who designed and led the study, said. He is head of the Center for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College. “Psilocybin performed very favorably in this head-to-head.”

Psilocybin affects the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for memory, fear, emotional reactions, anxiety, and decision-making.

“After decades of demonization and criminalization, psychedelic drugs are on the cusp of entering mainstream psychiatry, with profound implications for a field that in recent decades has seen few pharmacological advancements for the treatment of mental disorders and addiction,” according to The New York Times in a recent article. “The need for new therapeutics has gained greater urgency amid a national epidemic of opioid abuse and suicides.”

Oregon has voted in favor of legalizing psilocybin therapy, and a senate bill has been introduced to decriminalize psychedelic drugs in California. Policies are also being reviewed in New York, Washington DC, New Jersey, Florida, Australia, Canada, and the UK. I’ve even seen ads on Facebook for starter packs to grow your own. 

The New York Times calls psilocybin and MDMA “the hottest new therapeutics since Prozac.”

Professor David Nutt, principal investigator of the Imperial College study said that the psilocybin worked decidedly faster than Lexapro. “These findings provide further support for the growing evidence base that shows that in people with depression, psilocybin offers an alternative treatment to traditional antidepressants,” Nutt said. “We look forward to further trials, which if positive should lead to psilocybin becoming a licensed medicine.”

Can you envision a world where antidepressants may not be the best course of treatment for depression anymore? Could “shrooms” be the new medical marijuana for those of us with depression?

Images courtesy Unsplash.com.

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