Story at a glance

  • Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic substance found naturally in some species of mushrooms.

  • Researchers and mental health care professionals are interested in whether it can be used as treatment for depression and other disorders.

  • A study finds that a synthetic version of psilocybin may be able to help patients with depression.

Research and exploration into using psilocybin, the active substance in “magic mushrooms,” to treat depression and post-traumatic stress disorder has expanded in recent years. A new study suggests that a single dose of a synthetic version of psilocybin can have a mitigating effect on depressive symptoms. 

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, participants in an experiment received 25 mg, 10 mg or 1 mg of synthetic psilocybin. Participants had treatment-resistant depression, with 95 percent saying they had previous depressive episodes. On average, that group said they’d had about 7 such episodes in their lifetime. 

There were 79 people in the 25 mg group, 75 in the 10 mg group and 79 in the 1 mg group. The researchers considered the 1 mg dose to be the control group for this study. The study was double-blinded, meaning both the researchers and participants were blind to which treatment the participants received. 

After three weeks, the 25 mg group had significantly reduced depression scores compared to the 1 mg group. They had an average drop of 12 points on the Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS), which has a range of 0 to 60 where higher scores indicate more severe depression. Scores for people in the 1 mg group dropped by an average of 5 points. 

The 10 mg group experienced a less pronounced effect which was not statistically significantly different from that observed in the 1 mg group. The MADRS scores for people in this group dropped by about 8 points on average.  

The benefit from the treatment in the 25 mg group had faded by the time the researchers followed up at week 12. The authors also note that there were some adverse effects for participants in all groups. These included headache, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. A small subset of participants experienced serious adverse effects, like suicidal ideation and intentional self injury. 

The study authors state that larger studies are needed to determine the safety and efficacy of this synthetic psilocybin for depression. Future studies can also compare this treatment to other existing treatments for depression. 

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