Psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression

Twelve people with moderate to severe treatment-resistant depression who had not responded to at least two courses of antidepressants were recruited (six men and six women, aged 30 to 64). Most of the participants actively volunteered to take part following presentations by the researchers and media coverage.

Hallucinogenics such as psilocybin can cause unpleasant reactions, including anxiety and paranoia, so it is important to establish whether the drug can be administered safely to people with depression. To investigate the safety and feasibility of using psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, researchers from Imperial  conducted a strictly monitored feasibility study.  As this was not a randomised-controlled trial, the patients knew they were receiving the drug and there was no control group to provide comparison either with existing treatments or with no treatment at all.

Previous studies have looked into the potential of using psychedelic drugs for conditions such as end of life anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and smoking dependence. Psilocybin acts on the serotonin system suggesting it could be developed for use in the treatment of depression.

It is estimated that 350 million people worldwide are affected by depression. The annual cost of depression in England is thought to be around £7.5 billion. Most people with depression respond positively to treatment using antidepressant medication and cognitive behavioural therapy. But around 20 per cent of those with depression do not respond to treatments and are classified as having treatment-resistant depression.

The study team, from Imperial College London, say this could pave the way for future randomised-controlled trials to establish the efficacy of the compound in treating this form of depression.

 

 

Magic mushrooms’ effects illuminated in brain imaging studies

The intensity of the effects reported by the participants, including visions of geometric patterns, unusual bodily sensations and altered sense of space and time, correlated with a decrease in oxygenation and blood flow in certain parts of the brain.

Professor David Nutt, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, the senior author of both studies, said: “Psychedelics are thought of as ‘mind-expanding’ drugs so it has commonly been assumed that they work by increasing brain activity, but surprisingly, we found that psilocybin actually caused activity to decrease in areas that have the densest connections with other areas. These hubs constrain our experience of the world and keep it orderly. We now know that deactivating these regions leads to a state in which the world is experienced as strange.”

The second study, due to be published online by the British Journal of Psychiatry on Thursday, found that psilocybin enhanced volunteers’ recollections of personal memories, which the researchers suggest could make it useful as an adjunct to psychotherapy.

In the first study, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 30 healthy volunteers had psilocybin infused into their blood while inside magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, which measure changes in brain activity. The scans showed that activity decreased in “hub” regions of the brain – areas that are especially well-connected with other areas.

Brain scans of people under the influence of the psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, have given scientists the most detailed picture to date of how psychedelic drugs work. The findings of two studies being published in scientific journals this week identify areas of the brain where activity is suppressed by psilocybin and suggest that it helps people to experience memories more vividly.

 

 

Magic mushrooms trial for depression delayed by red tape

Professor David Nutt
Professor David Nutt

“The knock-on effect is this profound impairment of research. We are the first people ever to have done a psilocybin study in the UK, but we are still hunting for a company that can manufacture the drug to GMP standards for the clinical trial, even though we’ve been trying for a year to find one. We live in a world of insanity in terms of regulating drugs at present. The whole field is so bogged down by these intransient regulations, so that even if you have a good idea, you may never get it into the clinic.”

Professor Nutt said: “The law for the control of drugs like psilocybin as a Schedule 1 Class A drug makes it almost impossible to use them for research. The reason we haven’t started the study is because finding companies who could manufacture the drug and who are prepared to go through the regulatory hoops to get the licence, which can take up to a year and triple the price, is proving very difficult. The whole situation is bedevilled by this primitive, old-fashioned attitude that Schedule 1 drugs could never have therapeutic potential, and so they have to be made impossible to access.

Professor Nutt’s research has shown that psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, may have the potential to alleviate severe forms of depression in people who have failed to respond fully to other anti-depressant treatments. However, psilocybin is illegal in the UK. The United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances classifies it as a Schedule 1 drug, one that has a high potential for abuse with no recognised medical use, and the UK has classified it as a Class A drug, the classification used for the most dangerous drugs. This means that a special licence has to be obtained to use magic mushrooms in research in the UK, and the manufacture of a synthetic form of psilocybin for use in patients is tightly controlled by EU regulations.

Professor David Nutt, president of the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) and Edmond J Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, told  BNA’s Festival of Neuroscience yesterday that although the Medical Research Council has awarded a grant for the study, Government regulations controlling the licensing of illegal drugs in research and EU guidelines on Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) have stalled the start of the trial, which was expected to start this year. He is calling for a change to the regulations.

The UK’s first clinical trial using the hallucinogenic ingredient in magic mushrooms for treating depression is being delayed due to UK and EU rules on the use of illegal drugs in research.

 

 

How Psilocybin Improves Your Brain

Psilocybin frees the brain from its rigid patterns and ego-driven assumptions, and allows the user to look at the world — and him or herself — from a whole new perspective. Many mushroom experiences also are accompanied by waves of good feelings and psychedelic visions of sound and color.

 

These results build on other evidence about how psilocybin can rewire the brain. A previous study at the Imperial College London showed that brain activity diminished in certain areas when subjects took the substance, particularly in the part of the brain responsible for a sense of self.

 

“I was fascinated to see similarities between the pattern of brain activity in a psychedelic state and the pattern of brain activity during dream sleep,” lead researcher Robin Carhart-Harris said in a statement. “People often describe taking psilocybin as producing a dreamlike state and our findings have, for the first time, provided a physical representation for the experience in the brain.”

 

“We find that the psychedelic state is associated with a less constrained and more intercommunicative mode of brain function,” the study concludes, “which is consistent with descriptions of the nature of consciousness in the psychedelic state.”

 

Magic mushrooms got their name for a reason. Psilocybin — the active chemical in so-called “magic mushrooms” — works on the mind in amazing ways to breed new insights and break from negativity and intransigence.

 

 

The Magic Effect Of Psilocybin Mushrooms

“These are remarkable compounds, with I think remarkable implications, if we can understand how they work and why they work,” says Roland Griffiths, a scientist at Johns Hopkins University, where some of the world’s leading psychedelic research is taking place.

 

Psilocybin mushrooms provoke mystical experiences and spiritual journeys when the body breaks the chemical down into a compound that is very similar to serotonin, a natural neurotransmitter in the brain. But psilocybin and serotonin aren’t exactly the same, explains Robin Carhart-Harris of the Imperial College London, and “that subtle difference in its pharmacology confers profound effects on consciousness.”

 

“What seems to happen in the psychedelic state is that when something is positive, it has the potential to be incredibly positive, to the extent of being euphoric, or ecstatic,” Carhart-Harris says. “But similarly if something is negative, it has the potential to be quite hellish and dysphoric and frightening.”

 

Griffith led a study published in 2006 in which volunteers received psilocybin or a comparative drug and were allowed to relax with soothing music in the presence of people with whom they had a trusting relationship.

 

Psilocybin mushrooms have helped human beings unlock their egos for centuries. This video, Psychedelic Science: Psilocybin by Reason TV, features interviews with two leading researchers who explain what we know about the magic mushroom effect and how much more we have to learn.