Over 17 million people in the US and 300 million people worldwide are estimated to have experienced major depression. Now, researchers from Johns Hopkins University have found that two doses of psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’, coupled with psychotherapy, can significantly reduce depressive symptoms.
“The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” says Alan Davis, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“Because most other depression treatments take weeks or months to work and may have undesirable effects, this could be a game changer if these findings hold up in future ‘gold-standard’ placebo-controlled clinical trials.”
For the study, the researchers involved 24 people with a long-term history of depression, most of whom experienced persistent depressive symptoms for around two years prior to enrolling in the study. The average age of the participants was 39, while 16 were women, and 22 considered themselves as ‘white’.
The treatment consisted of two psilocybin sessions lasting five hours each monitored by two clinicians taken two weeks apart between August 2017 and April 2019. Prior to the treatment and at one week and 4-week follow-ups from treatment completion, participants were assessed with a standard depression assessment tool known as the GRID-Hamilton Depression Rating Scale.
All in all, 67% of participants showed more than a 50% reduction in depressive symptoms at a one-week follow-up. At the four-week follow-up, this number increased to 71% of participants. On top of this, at the four-week follow-up, 54% of participants no longer qualified for being depressed.
The researchers now say that they will follow the participants for another year to see how long the antidepressant effects of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy last, and will report their results in a later publication.