A compound commonly found in “magic mushrooms” may work some magic on patients struggling with depression.
A study out of Imperial College London recently touted the benefits of psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found naturally in the mushrooms.
However, don’t go thinking you should consume the mushroom to thwart off depression.
Psilocybin is only one of the compounds found in the illegal fungi.
In patients who did not experience success with traditional treatments, the compound was found to improve their conditions for up to five weeks after treatment.
Researchers of the paper published in Scientific Reports said the psychedelic compound can hit the “reset button” on brain circuits that contribute to depression.
Researching the psychedelic compound is nothing new.
Dr. George Greer, medical director at Heffter Research Institute in New Mexico, is part of an organization that studies psilocybin to treat cancer, addiction, and other ailments.
He explained that this therapy includes giving patients pure psilocybin, synthesized in a facility approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“Patients are not given ‘magic mushrooms,’ which contain variable amounts of psilocybin,” he pointed out.
Greer told Healthline that the compound is the focus of research at several universities.
The final phase III trials are set to begin next year.
A new treatment path
In the study out of Imperial College London, 19 patients took 2 doses of psilocybin, a week apart.
Each patient had two brain scans following each dose.
Then, researchers looked at their brains using two imaging methods.
The scientists found that there was a reduction in blood flow to certain areas of the brain linked to emotional processing, stress, and fear.
The scientists also reported more stability in another area of the brain associated with depression.
Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, the lead author of the study and the head of psychedelic research at Imperial College London, said the compound could be a viable alternative to antidepressants, which mute emotions and have side effects that include sexual dysfunction.
“They work in a different way to antidepressants and that’s one of the reasons they really could be a solution for depression,” he told Healthline.
Additionally, psilocybin doesn’t need to be taken daily the way antidepressants must be administered.
Carhart-Harris also said it could be a first course of action for those suffering from depression.
“I don’t see the logic in why people have to try antidepressants first, particularly if psilocybin is more appealing to people, or if they don’t want to take antidepressants at all, for whatever reason,” he explained.
Psychedelics as treatment
Brad Burge, a spokesperson for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in California, added that psychedelics are being studied to treat multiple diseases and conditions.
His group is assessing 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
MDMA is a compound sometimes found in drugs such as Ecstasy, but it is not the same thing as the street drug. MAPS does not sponsor psilocybin research, Burge noted.
“We currently expect that MDMA will be approved for use in combination with psychotherapy for PTSD by 2021,” Burge added.
Phase III trials on using psilocybin as a treatment for anxiety may also be happening soon, Burge said.
Burge said the medical community largely recognizes psychedelics as a potential treatment option for medical conditions.
“Those medical professionals and policymakers who don’t yet recognize the potential value that psychedelic compounds hold for the treatment of mental illness are right to be skeptical, and we encourage them to wait for the results of the upcoming Phase III trials,” he said.
“People should not try to self-medicate, as these treatments are not yet FDA-approved,” noted Dr. David Feifel, a psychiatry professor at the University of California, San Diego.
He said psychedelic treatments are “currently not an option their doctors can offer, unless they are enrolled in a research study.”