Did you know that an estimated 350 million people worldwide are affected by depression? It’s now the leading cause of global mental and physical disability and plays a major role in countless suicides, including among children, teens and young adults.
The situation is actually much worse than this.
Around 50 percent of people living with this debilitating condition don’t benefit from antidepressants and around 20 percent don’t respond to any treatment.
This means that the conventional approach to addressing depression isn’t working.
But, for some, there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
New research results from Imperial College London hold much promise. Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, who leads the psychedelic research arm of the Center for Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, has published research suggesting a compound in magic mushrooms, psilocybin, may help treat depression.
The therapeutic potential of psychedelics for the treatment of depression is of major interest to scientists because psilocybin acts on the serotonin levels in the brain.
To understand how hallucinogenics work on the brain, Dr. Carhart-Harris explains that in a normal brain there are not so many cross connections as in a brain on psilocybin: the latter state allows for a more open, freer connections across the brain. The brain becomes untethered from incoming information and in this state it can operate in a more freewheeling way.
To test the treatment of depression with psilocybin, six men and six women with moderate to severe treatment-resistant depression participated in the study. Many of them suffered from depression for an average of 18 years with no positive results from treatment.
You may be wondering: is this safe?
Because hallucinogenics can bring about a very profound experience — pleasant as well as extremely unpleasant — these powerful substances must be treated with respect and great care. Researchers from Imperial College therefore conducted a strictly monitored feasibility study where psychiatrists were physically present with the patients throughout the process. The scientists gave test subjects two doses of psilocybin on two treatment days.
The study results show that psilocybin is safe and well-tolerated and that, when given alongside supportive therapy, helped all of the study participants to feel relief from depression for the first three weeks after the treatment.
Here’s the kicker:
More than two thirds of them were depression free and 42 percent of them stayed depression free for three months after the treatment.
One of the volunteers had this to say about the experience:
“The usual negative self-narration that I have had vanished completely. It was replaced by a sense of beautiful chaos, a landscape of unimaginable colors and beauty. I began to see that all of my concerns about daily living weren’t relevant, that they were a result of a negative spiral. I also felt that I was learning without being taught, that intuition was being fed.”
In the weeks after the treatment, the patient remarked: “I’m aware that it’s pointless to be wrapped up in so much negativity.” Six months after the treatment he was still in remission.
The researchers warn that this is not a magic cure that’s going to help everyone. Scientists have to do more research to find out how to optimize the treatment and further test its effectiveness.