The study, which appeared recently in The New England Journal of Medicine, compared one group of mentally-ill patients — who took psilocybin twice under the supervision of psychiatrists — to another who were placed on a six-week course of the antidepressant escitalopram.
At the end of the six weeks, both groups had experienced a significant decrease in the severity of their symptoms. But strikingly, depression scores saw quicker and greater decreases in the psilocybin group than the antidepressant group.
The researchers are thrilled at the findings.
“One of the most important aspects of this work is that people can clearly see the promise of properly delivered psilocybin therapy by viewing it compared with a more familiar, established treatment in the same study. Psilocybin performed very favourably in this head-to-head,” Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, who designed and led the study, stated.
But Carhart-Harris and his colleagues warn patients suffering from depression not to take magic mushrooms without the supervision of healthcare workers and mental health professionals.
“Context is crucial for these studies, and all volunteers received therapy during and after their psilocybin sessions. Our team of therapists were on hand to offer full support through sometimes difficult emotional experiences,” Dr. Rosalind Watts, clinical lead of the trial, said.
The researchers also pointed out that even though the study’s results are promising, further research remains necessary.
They explained that their study lacked a placebo group and that only a small number of individuals participated.
Still, they’re excited that psilocybin could one day be a feasible mental health treatment.
“These findings provide further support for the growing evidence base that shows that in people with depression,” Prof. David Nutt — the principal investigator on the study and the Edmond J. Safra Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College — asserted, “psilocybin offers an alternative treatment to traditional antidepressants.”