A new study published this week shows that psilocybin can be an effective and quick-acting treatment for major depressive disorder. Results of the study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland were published on Wednesday by the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
More than 17 million people in the U.S. have experienced major depression, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health. One of the names behind that statistic is Tim Ferriss, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who helped fund the psilocybin research.
“I believe this study to be a critically important proof of concept for the medical approval of psilocybin for treatment of depression, a condition I have personally struggled with for decades,” Ferriss said.
To conduct the study, researchers recruited 24 people with a long-term history of major depression. Most volunteers had experienced symptoms for about two years before the study. The subjects were weaned off of antidepressant medications with the assistance of their physicians before the study began.
Substantial Decrease In Depression
Each subject participated in two five-hour supervised psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy sessions administered two weeks apart. Participants completed a scored depression assessment upon enrolling in the study and again one week and four weeks after treatment.
Most participants showed a substantial decrease in depression after treatment, and more than half were considered to be in remission from depression four weeks after treatment. Among the 24 patients, 67% showed a more than 50% reduction in depression symptoms after one week, and 71% showed similar progress at four weeks.
“The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” said study co-author Alan Davis of Johns Hopkins University.
“The effect sizes reported in this study were approximately 2.5 times greater than the effect sizes found in psychotherapy, and more than 4 times greater than the effect sizes found in psycho-pharmacological depression treatment studies,” wrote the authors of the study.
Psilocybin Safer Than Antidepressants
Psilocybin was also shown to be safer than traditional antidepressant medications, which can produce side effects including suicidal ideation, weight gain, and a decreased libido. Psilocybin was also shown to be effective after only one or two treatment sessions. Side effects of psilocybin included mild to moderate headaches and “challenging emotions” during the sessions.
“Because most other depression treatments take weeks or months to work and may have undesirable effects, this could be a game changer if these findings hold up” in future clinical trials, Davis said.
“How do we explain the incredible magnitude and durability of effects? Treatment research with moderate to high doses of psychedelics may uncover entirely new paradigms for understanding and improving mood and mind,” Ferriss said.
The growing acceptance of psilocybin mushrooms is now being reflected in public policy, albeit primarily through the ballot box. In this week’s general election, voters in Oregon approved an initiative to legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin, while Washington, D.C. voters decriminalized the possession of psilocybin by adults. Voters in Denver, Colorado passed a similar measure in 2019, and later, the city councils of Oakland and Santa Cruz, California passed measures to decriminalize psilocybin and other entheogenic plants and fungi in their jurisdictions.