‘Magic mushroom’ could help treat depression, study shows

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A recent study published in The BMJ has highlighted the effectiveness of psilocybin, the active component in “magic” mushrooms, in treating symptoms of depression. This adds to the growing interest in psilocybin as a potential antidepressant.

Depression is a widespread issue, affecting around 300 million people globally and stands as a leading cause of disability. Traditional treatments for depression often include medications and therapy, but not everyone responds well to these methods.

This has led scientists to explore alternative treatments, such as psilocybin, which has been shown to significantly reduce depression symptoms after just one or two doses. Importantly, psilocybin does not seem to have addictive properties and typically has few side effects.

The recent study conducted by a team of UK researchers involved a thorough review of various databases for randomized controlled trials that compared psilocybin treatments for depression against control treatments, such as placebos or low doses of other psychedelics.

To ensure the study focused purely on the effects of psilocybin, each trial included in the review also involved psychotherapy sessions for both the treatment and control groups.

From their search, the researchers identified seven trials that fit their criteria, involving a total of 436 participants. Most of these participants were white, and just over half were female.

The effectiveness of psilocybin was measured using a statistical tool known as Hedges’ g, where a score of 0.2 indicates a small effect, 0.5 a moderate effect, and 0.8 or more a large effect.

The results from these trials showed a Hedges’ g of 1.64 for psilocybin, indicating a large effect size and significant improvement in depression scores compared to the control treatments.

Further analysis revealed several factors that influenced the effectiveness of psilocybin. For example, individuals with secondary depression (depression stemming from another underlying condition), older participants, and those who had previously used psychedelics showed greater improvements.

However, the evidence was not completely robust due to high variability between trials and limited participant diversity, which affects the generalizability of the findings.

The conditions under which psilocybin is administered in trials—typically a comfortable setting with soothing music and a therapist present—also differ greatly from typical healthcare environments. This raises questions about how psilocybin could be integrated into standard medical practice.

Despite these promising results, the study highlights several challenges that need to be addressed before psilocybin can be recommended for clinical use. These include the cost of treatment, the need for established regulatory guidelines, and legal considerations.

Researchers not involved in the study have also called for more research to determine psilocybin’s real-world effectiveness and to better understand its role in therapy.

They emphasize the need for a cautious approach to psilocybin, urging that more comprehensive evidence is required to make clinical recommendations.

In conclusion, while the study supports psilocybin’s potential as an effective treatment for depression, the path forward involves addressing several practical and scientific challenges.

Further research is crucial to fully understand how psilocybin can be used safely and effectively in treating depression.

If you care about health, please read studies that scientists find a core feature of depression and this metal in the brain strongly linked to depression.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about drug for mental health that may harm the brain, and results showing this therapy more effective than ketamine in treating severe depression.

The research findings can be found in The BMJ.

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