A major, and well publicised, report has suggested that magic mushrooms can play a significant role in reducing depression.
While the term ‘magic mushrooms’ is commonly used, the actual meaning of this slang terminology may be somewhat misunderstood.
It refers to any fungi that contain psilocybin; a psychoactive substance that can cause intense LSD-like hallucinations, as well as reported feelings of euphoria and ‘spiritual insight’.
Naturally this particular form of research is not liable to find immediate mainstream approval, but does the study have any value or basis for its conclusions?
Researchers involved with the study gave two doses of psilocybin to 12 volunteers, all of whom had moderate or severe depression that had not responded to other treatment.
Specific approval was required from the Home Office, as this drug is obviously subject to restrictions in the United Kingdom.
Throughout the experiment, those participating in the study were very closely monitored by psychiatrists.
Researchers found the 12 volunteers tolerated the drug, with minor side effects that did not last long.
Eight of them had no symptoms of depression one week after treatment, and five were free from depression after three months.
The small sample size obviously compromises the significance of the results, but it should be said in mitigation regarding this element of the study that it will be difficult to achieve approval for a larger study involving more people at this time.
However, the researchers involved have called for a bigger randomised controlled trial to properly assess how well this treatment works.
Research was conducted out by scientists from Imperial College London, South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, King’s College London, University College London, the Royal London Hospital, and the Beckley Foundation, and was funded by the Medical Research Council.
The study has been published in the notable journal The Lancet: Psychiatry.
While the media response to the research has been somewhat frenzied, it does seem that the study nonetheless has some value.
We can be fairly certain that those involved did not experience a placebo-like phenomenon owing to the hallucinatory qualities of the substance in question.
One possible factor which could have helped contributed to the results was the intensive therapeutic support from psychiatrist, which could obviously have had a significant influence over the mood of participants.
The depression scores from the test did indicate that most participants experienced a significant initial drop in depression scores at one week after treatment, with many scores upswinging significantly in the immediate aftermath.
This could suggest that the magic mushrooms treatment has a fairly short-term influence over the moon of participants.
However, despite calls for a larger study to take place, the political controversy over psychoactive substances means that a more sustained experiment may indeed ever take place.