Magic mushrooms could cure patients with severe depression after British scientists discovered a compound in the Class A drug which appears to work where conventional therapies have failed.
A pilot study at Imperial College London’s department of medicine saw 12 patients given psilocybin, a compound found in “magic mushrooms” – a psychedelic drug illegal in the UK.
The clinical trial found two doses of psilocybin were enough to lift depression in all 12 volunteers for three weeks.
Seven patients continued to show a positive response at the three-month mark, while five patients were still in remission after three months.
Participants were carefully screened to exclude patients with a history of suicide attempts, psychosis or drug addiction.
During the trial, patients experienced a “trip” just as if they were taking magic mushrooms for recreational purposes. However, the volunteers received psychological support to help them cope with the hallucinogenic effects.
Lead scientist Robin Carhart-Harris said: “These experiences with psilocybin can be incredibly profound.
“Sometimes people have what they describe as mystical or spiritual-type experiences – that’s not uncommon, particularly with the high dose. So it’s important that we provide psychological support afterwards.
“We didn’t see anything unexpected and the adverse effects were mostly things that we predicted and were relatively mild.”
Carhart-Harris said the experience of taking psilocybin can be “psychologically challenging” and urged people not to use magic mushrooms themselves.
“Psychedelic drugs have potent psychological effects and are only given in our research when appropriate safeguards are in place, such as careful screening and professional therapeutic support.
“I wouldn’t want members of the public thinking they can treat their own depressions by picking their own magic mushrooms. That kind of approach could be risky.”
Because of the small size of the trial and the fact scientists did not use a placebo, the results of the pilot study serve as a proof of principle only.
Researchers hope the findings will encourage the Medical Research Council (MRC) or other funding bodies to finance a full trial in the future.
Professor David Nutt, a former government drugs tsar, said major obstacles had to be overcome to carry out the research because of strict restrictions on using illegal drugs.
He said researchers had to use a company with a special licence and the scientists had to wait 32 months for approval.
“It cost £1,500 to dose each person, when in a sane world it might cost £30,” he added.