Study finds psychedelic therapy with psilocybin relieves major depression

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Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers reported that in a small study on adults with major depressionadministration of two doses of hallucinogenic drug psilocybinwith supportive psychotherapy, produced significant and rapid reductions in depressive symptoms. Most of the participants had an improvement and half of those who participated in the study had a remission during the four weeks of follow-up.

Psilocybin, a substance found in so-called “hallucinogenic mushrooms”, produces visual and auditory hallucinations and profound alterations in consciousness within hours of ingestion. In 2016, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers were the first to find that psilocybin treatment combined with psychological support reduced existential anxiety and depression in people diagnosed with life-threatening cancer.

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Currently, the results of the new study, published Nov. 4 in JAMA Psychiatry, suggest that psilocybin may be effective in a much wider population of patients with major depression than previously thought.

A game changer

“The magnitude of the effect we observed was almost four times greater than what clinical studies have shown using conventional antidepressants on the market,” says Alan Davis, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in medical school. from Johns Hopkins University. “Since most other treatments for depression take weeks or months to work and can have side effects, this could be a game changerwhether these results are supported by future placebo-controlled clinical trials that constitute the gold standard”.

The published results only cover a four-week follow-up of 24 participants, all of whom received two sessions of psilocybin, each lasting five hours, under the guidance of the researchers.

Effective treatment

“Because there are different types of major depressive disorder that can lead to variations in how people respond to treatment, I was surprised that almost everyone in our study found treatment with psilocybin. effectivesays Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., Oliver Lee McCabe III Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology and Consciousness at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research.

He notes that the major depression treated in the new study may have been different from the “reactive” form of depression in the patients they enrolled in the Cancer Clinical Study in 2016. Dr Griffiths notes that those responsible for public health urged his team to explore the effects of psilocybin in the broader population of people with major depressive disorder because of the far greater impact it could have on public health.

For the new study, the scientists recruited 24 people with a documented history of long-term depression, most of whom had suffered from persistent symptoms for around two years before enrolling in the study. The average age of participants was 39; 16 were female and 22 identified as white, one person as Asian and one person as African American. Participants were required to taper off their antidepressants prior to the study, with support from their primary care physician, to ensure safe exposure to this experimental treatment.

Thirteen participants received psilocybin treatment immediately after enrollment and preparatory sessions, and 11 participants received the same preparation and treatment after an eight-week delay.

The treatment consisted of two doses of psilocybin administered by two clinical supervisors who provided counseling and support. It took place at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Behavioral Biology Research Building, two weeks apart, between August 2017 and April 2019. Each treatment session lasted approximately five hours, and the participant lay on a couch, wearing a mask and bathrobes. headphones playing music and supervisors. gift.

All participants received the GRID-Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (a standard method for rating depression) at enrollment, as well as one and four weeks after the end of treatment. On this scale, a score of 24 or more indicates severe depression, 17 to 23 moderate depression, 8 to 16 mild depression, and 7 or less no depression.

At enrollment, participants had a mean score of 23 on the depression rating scale, but after one week and after four weeks of treatment, participants had a mean score of eight on the depression scale. assessment of depression. After treatment, most participants had a dramatic reduction in their symptoms, and almost half had depression remission at the follow-up appointment. Participants in the delayed state had no reduction in their symptoms before receiving psilocybin treatment.

A significant reduction

Of the group of 24 total participants, 67% had a greater than 50% reduction in depression symptoms at the follow-up appointment one week later and 71% at the follow-up four weeks later. Overall, four weeks after treatment, 54% of the participants were considered in remission, meaning they no longer met the criteria to be called depressed. The researchers say they will follow the participants for a year to determine how long the effects of psilocybin therapy last.

Dr Griffiths, who began researching psilocybin in the early 2000s and was initially viewed with skepticism and concern by some, says he is happy to have the support of Johns Hopkins and encourages seeing the dozens of new companies and research labs that have followed suit doing their own research. He adds that a large number of companies are currently actively involved in the development of marketable forms of psilocybin and related hallucinogens.

According to data provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 17 million people in the United States and 300 million people worldwide have experienced symptoms of major depression.

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