There has been a growing medical interest in hallucinogenic drugs and it's not the first time magic mushrooms have been considered as an aid for mental problems. In 2014, it was shown that psylocibin, the active substance in the magic mushrooms inhibits the processing of negative emotions in the brain, helping to block out anxiety and depression. The same year, a different study considered mushrooms as a way to get hard smokers off the hook and in 2015, two different studies underlined the potential that substances like psylocibin has for the human brain. Now, another effort continues has similar conclusions.
The study employed only 12 people, which is a really small sample size. Howeveer, the results were quite promising. At the start of the trial, nine of the patients had at least severe depression and three were moderately depressed - all of them were diagnosed with what was considered "untreatable" depression, with one patient exhibiting symptoms for 30 years. All of them had tried several different treatments, with little success, and none of them had taken hallucinogenic substances previously.
The researchers administered careful doses, creating a psychedelic experience that lasted up to six hours, peaking after about two. The patients listened to classical music and were offered psychological support after the experience.
Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, one of the researchers, said:
"These experiences with psilocybin can be incredibly profound, sometimes people have what they describe as mystical or spiritual-type experiences."
While side-effects such as anxiety, nausea and headaches occurred, depression symptoms dropped significantly. Dr Carhart-Harris added:
"Seeing effect sizes of this magnitude is very promising, they are very large effect sizes in any available treatment for depression. We now need larger trials to understand whether the effects we saw in this study translate into long-term benefits."
Of course, you can't draw too many conclusions from such a small sample size (the study also didn't have a control placebo group). But creating a bigger sample size is going to be a huge problems, due to the "Kafkaesque" restrictions placed by the government, researchers say.
Fellow researcher Prof David Nutt said that "it cost £1,500 to dose each patient, when in any sane world it might have cost £30". This means that any potential benefits of hallucinogenic substances are going to be extremely difficult to understand and quantify.
But for people suffering from the worst case of depression, this study means hope. It may be unorthodox and experimental, but it could work. We just need the government to renounce these inefficient restrictions so we can study the matter better.