A new study conducted at Johns Hopkins University on the effects of psilocybin for the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD) has just been published in JAMA Psychiatry––and the results are (unsurprisingly) very impressive.
The randomized clinical trial found that 67% of participants had a greater than 50% reduction in depressive symptoms just one week after a single psilocybin session. 71% of participants had a greater than 50% reduction in depressive symptoms after 4 weeks. More than half the participants' depression was in full remission one month after taking psilocybin.
The study authors concluded that “psilocybin administered in the context of supportive psychotherapy produced large, rapid, and sustained antidepressant effects.” Psilocybin-assisted therapy was found to be 4 times more effective than pharmaceutical antidepressants and 2.5 times more effective than psychotherapy.
These findings support two previous clinical trials of psilocybin, one conducted with patients facing life-threatening cancer and the other involving patients with treatment-resistant depression. Both studies concluded psilocybin possesses novel antidepressant effects.
Psilocybin was also found to be non-addictive and without any serious side effects. The only adverse experiences reported by some participants were mild-to-moderate headache and challenging emotions that were limited to the time of sessions.
Pharmaceutical antidepressants are associated with serious potential side effects, including weight gain, sexual dysfunction, insomnia and suicidal ideation.
Prescribing a drug to a person who is already depressed that could in turn make them fatter, diminish their sex life, ruin their sleep and make them want to kill themselves leaves a lot of room for therapeutic improvement.
Beyond side effects, this study provided clinical efficacy that just a single dose of psilocybin can have significantly impactful, long-lasting antidepressant effects, whereas pharmaceutical antidepressants require long-term, daily administration.
There is a great need for safe, effective treatments that address mood disorders and mental illness. 10% of the adult population has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder in the past 12 months and more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from major depressive disorder.
For almost 50 years, psilocybin has been illegal in nearly every country in the world. This made it impossible to conduct scientific studies involving the naturally-occurring substance, save for a couple exceptions in 1968 and 2006, both of which found significantly positive effects.
Thankfully, in October 2018 and again in November 2019, the Food and Drug Administration granted psilocybin "breakthrough therapy" status for research. This paved the way for the latest John Hopkins study and will likely lead to many more.
Across the US, laws banning psilocybin are being phased out––and quite quickly. In this past election alone, Oregon voted to both decriminalize psilocybin and make it legal for therapeutic use. Washington D.C. also voted to decriminalize, joining several other previously decriminalized cities, including Oakland, Denver, Santa Cruz and Ann Arbor.
As of 2019, there were an estimated one hundred other US cities considering decriminalization. California will consider doing so next year.
It’s no longer a matter of if psilocybin will become legalized, but a matter of when. In the meantime, more clinical trials are needed to develop strong, proven therapeutic programs that can displace the current medical paradigm of toxic, pharmaceutical drugs and their dangerous side effects.