Study finds that magic mushrooms can remedy severe depression

It lifted the moods of all of the volunteers


Shrooms are rarely billed as a solution. They are a silly distraction; an unreal kaleidoscopic trip out of your own mind.

Now, though, science has found that this evacuation of your senses might help you recapture them again. Magic mushrooms have lifted the severe depression of 12 volunteers in a clinical trial. It found that psilocybin, the active substance in magic mushrooms, was sufficiently potent to lift depression in volunteers during the three week trial. It kept it away in five of them for three months following the trial.

All of the volunteers suffered from ‘severe’ depression. They had tried at least two antidepressants, to no avail. They were dealt a low dose of psilocybin to check they did not have an adverse reaction to it, and then given a higher dose a week afterwards. They consumed the drug in a designated room with music and two psychiatrists, who spoke to them during their trip. The trips lasted up to five hours.

magic mushrooms

The group comprised six men and six women. Each was screened to ensure that they did not have a history of suicide attempts, psychosis or drug dependence. Some patients reported confusion, nausea and headaches, and two suffered a brief episode of mild paranoia. There were no more serious side effects reported.

The research was carried out by scientists from Imperial College London, in collaboration with the Beckley Foundation, a think tank that focuses on drugs policy. The scientists warn that it is difficult to create a placebo control for the experiment, as it will always be abundantly clear who has taken the shrooms and who has not. Researchers also advise that people do not try to self-medicate.

“I wouldn’t want members of the public thinking they can treat their own depressions by picking their own magic mushrooms. That kind of approach could be risky,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Robin Carhart-Harris.

What happened? “Both times I experienced something called ‘psychedelic turbulence’,” one volunteer told The Guardian. “This is the transition period to the psychedelic state, and caused me to feel cold and anxious,” the 45-year-old said. “However this soon passed, and I had a mostly pleasant – and sometimes beautiful – experience.

The study took a year to get ethical approval. There was a six-month safety study, and it took 30 months to get hold of the drug, which was delivered to volunteers in capsule form.

“The results from our research are helping is to understand how psychedelics change consciousness,” said Amanda Feilding, founder of Beckley and co-director of the trial programme. “And how this information can be used to find breakthrough treatments for many of humanity’s most intractable psychiatric disorders, such as depression, addiction and obsessive compulsive disorder.”