Magic mushrooms against chronic depression.

Nature reports on the first safety study, published in The Lancet, of psilocybin mushrooms as a potent therapy for drug-resistant long-term depression:

Researchers from Imperial College London gave 12 people psilocybin, the active component in magic mushrooms. All had been clinically depressed for a significant amount of time — on average 17.8 years. None of the patients had responded to standard medications, such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or had electroconvulsive therapy.

One week after receiving an oral dose of psilocybin, all patients experienced a marked improvement in their symptoms. Three months on, five patients were in complete remission.

“That is pretty remarkable in the context of currently available treatments,” says Robin Carhart-Harris, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London and first author of the latest study, which is published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

“This was unprecedented,” says neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt at Imperial, who is senior author of the study.

It took 32 months between having the grant awarded and dosing the first patient, says Nutt. By comparison, it took six months “to get through the machinations” for his team’s previous studies using the equally illegal drugs LSD and MDMA, he says.

The World Health Organisation calls depression “the leading cause of disability worldwide”. But effective therapies are hard to find. Searching for new treatments, researchers have looked to potent and quirky alternatives such as ketamine and ayahuasca, both of which have shown promise in clinical trials.

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