Single Dose of a Synthetic ‘Magic Mushroom’ Decreased the Extent of Severe Depression

In a new study, researchers found that persons with a treatment-resistant form of depression responded positively to a single dose of a synthetic version of psilocybin, the mind-altering component of magic mushrooms.

The “biggest of its kind” study evaluated the effects of three different doses of the synthetic psilocybin COMP360, given by qualified therapists: 25 milligrams, 10 milligrams, and 1 milligram.

The study’s co-author, Dr. Guy Goodwin, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, said the findings showed “an immediate, fast, rapid-acting, sustained response to 25 milligrams” of COMP360. The study was published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

You can get this substance by processing magic mushrooms, but we make our compound in a different way. Goodwin, the chief medical officer of COMPASS Pathways, the company that makes COMP360 and conducted the study, explained that the crystalline form is the result of purely chemical synthesis.

Researchers and professionals in the field generally viewed the study’s results favorably.

According to Dr. Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychedelics and consciousness at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, “they certainly discovered a dosage effect and clinically substantial improvement in just three weeks.” Aside from that, he did not have anything to do with the latest research.

Single Dose of a Synthetic 'Magic Mushroom'

 

Johnson, who coauthored safety guidelines for psychedelic research in 2008, found that the likelihood of a positive response was approximately three times higher in the 25-milligram group compared to the 1-milligram group.

It’s also worth noting how quickly the patient improved after receiving treatment.

The treatment’s full impact was observed one day after it was administered. “Standard antidepressants take many weeks to reach optimum impact,” said Dr. Anthony Cleare, a professor of psychopharmacology and affective disorders at King’s College London, in a statement. He has nothing to do with the research.

However, specialists have noted a number of questions that need answering before this medicine can be used in humans.

Cleare stated, “The effects did start to wear off after three months, and we need to know how best to prevent the depression from returning.” In addition, he noted that not enough is yet known regarding potential adverse effects.

While it appears that psilocybin has a relatively low-risk profile, caution is nevertheless advised when using any psychedelic chemical. “We hope that future, larger research will shed light on these questions,” he said.

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Benefits faded

In total, 22 locations across the US, Canada, the UK, and seven European countries participated in the clinical experiment. The purpose of the research was to determine how safe various doses of patent psilocybin were.

The 233 people who took part in the trial were classified with treatment-resistant depression because they did not improve with two different types of antidepressants. There are an estimated 9 million persons in the United States who are receiving medical therapy for depression, and 3 million of those patients are resistant to treatment.

A hundred million people worldwide suffer from depression that is resistant to treatment, according to Goodwin. The study concluded that those with the disorder face an elevated threat of developing physical sickness, becoming disabled, being hospitalized, and even taking their own lives.

Participants who were already taking antidepressants had to taper off their dosages before the study began. People who are already taking antidepressants will not benefit from psychedelic treatment since the brain receptors where psychedelics connect are already saturated with serotonin.

It was stated in the study that “Participants were requested to remain off antidepressant treatment during the first 3 weeks after the trial-drug administration,” but that “these medications might be begun at any time during the trial if considered clinically required by a physician investigator.”

Prior to receiving treatment, each individual’s level of depression was determined using a standard psychological scale. The psychedelic experiences lasted between six and eight hours, and they were accompanied by counselors who were trained to provide emotional support. During the first week, participants also received two additional treatment sessions.

The participant’s level of depression was recorded the day after the “vacation” and five more times during the subsequent 12 weeks. Three-sevenths or so of those given the 25-milligram dose reported feeling better. In fact, by week 3, 29% of patients were assessed to be in remission.

After 12 weeks, however, the study found that the beneficial effect on depression symptoms had diminished and no longer achieved statistical significance.

“The incidence of sustained response at week 12 was 20% in the 25-mg group, 5% in the 10-mg group, and 10% in the 1-mg group,” stated Dr. Bertha Madras, director of the laboratory of addiction neurobiology at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. She opted out of taking part in the research.

Dr. Ravi Das, an associate professor of educational psychology research techniques and statistics at University College London, said via email, “This is not a remarkable response rate for a psychiatric treatment… and we would only anticipate this to worsen over a longer follow-up time.” He was not a part of the research team.

Furthermore, “there were an uneven number of extremely depressed patients in each group; with significantly less severely depressed people in the seeming ‘effective’ (25mg) dose group,” Das stated. “This doesn’t seem to be acknowledged in the paper.”

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Safety profile

The majority of trial participants (77%) had adverse effects on the day of psilocybin administration, including headache, nausea, exhaustion, and dizziness.

Within the 12-week follow-up period, a small percentage of participants in all three dosage groups reported suicidal thoughts or self-injury. Two participants in the 25-milligram group considered suicide and two others purposefully hurt themselves during the first three weeks. According to the study, two participants in the 10-milligram group were suicidal, one self-injured, and one was hospitalized for severe depression.

Those actions “are prevalent in treatment-resistant depression research – most cases happened more than a week after the COMP360 psilocybin session,” the company noted.

Keep in mind that these findings come from a group of people who were previously determined to be at low suicide risk. Kevin McConway, professor emeritus of applied statistics at The Open Institution, a British public research university, said, “The numbers were pretty modest, but this is something that will need to be taken carefully into account in any later-stage trials.”

Final Lines

McConway, who was not involved in the study, said that the findings were encouraging but noted that much more research was needed to determine whether or not this medicine would be effective in treating various forms of depression.

McConway noted the need for future trials to determine how effective psilocybin plus therapy is in comparison to other existing drug or non-drug treatments for depression.

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