How Magic Mushrooms Can Affect Depression

December 9th 2016

The active ingredient in hallucinogenic "magic mushrooms," psilocybin, appears to be an effective treatment option for people suffering from depression, a recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and New York University Langone Medical Center conducted two separate, double-blind studies that involved administering low doses of psilocybin to a total of 80 patients with life-threatening cancer. Both studies turned up compelling evidence of psilocybin's therapeutic value, with about 80 percent of participants showing "clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety," according to a press release.

What's more, the anti-depressive effects lasted up to six months on average, surprising researchers who pointed out that the psychoactive effects only lasted between four and six hours. "[This] may represent a fascinating new model for treating some psychiatric conditions," Roland Griffiths, a behavioral biology professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said.

magic-mushroomsStocksy/Rowena Naylor -

Sixty percent of the study participants experienced a remission of depressive symptoms into "normal range." About 83 percent reported improvements in overall life satisfaction, and 67 percent described the experience "as one of the top five meaningful experiences in their lives."

The researchers cautioned that the study results shouldn't be interpreted as a green light to self-medicate with magic mushrooms.

Participants in both studies received two doses of psilocybin by physicians in controlled settings, spaced out five weeks apart. The first dose contained extremely low amounts of the drug, which didn't produce psychoactive effects, as a "control" placebo. The second dose contained a moderate to high amount of psilocybin.

Before they got started, researchers conducted individual interviews with study participants and had them fill out questionnaires in an effort to evaluate their mood, spirituality, and feelings about life. They put the same questions to participants seven hours, five weeks, and six months after the first dose was administered and compared the responses.

"Before beginning the study, it wasn't clear to me that this treatment would be helpful, since cancer patients may experience profound hopelessness in response to their diagnosis, which is often followed by multiple surgeries and prolonged chemotherapy," Griffiths said in the press release. "I could imagine that cancer patients would receive psilocybin, look into the existential void, and come out even more fearful. However, the positive changes in attitudes, moods, and behavior that we documented in healthy volunteers were replicated in cancer patients."

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