New study looks at ‘magic’ mushrooms as a treatment for depression, without the psychedelic high

A new study from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) will attempt to harness the antidepressant power of psilocybin mushrooms, but without the psychedelic experience.

Psilocybin is the hallucinogenic chemical in “magic” mushrooms that creates a psychedelic high. Nevertheless, clinical trials have shown Psilocybin mushrooms also have antidepressant effects in people whose depression is resistant to other treatments, when combined with intensive psychotherapy.

Over a three-year period, CAMH researchers will try to learn whether the psychedelic experience itself is necessary to treat depression in a federally funded study that lead researcher Dr. Ishrat Husein says is the first of its kind. Type.

“What we’re trying to address with this study, which I think is an obvious question in the field, is whether the psychedelic high is required for therapeutic benefits,” Husein told CTVNews.ca. “It’s supposed to be, but no one has actually designed a clinical trial to answer that question.”

Husein and his team will compare the results of 60 adults with treatment-resistant depression. Over the course of the study, a third of the participants will receive a full dose of psilocybin plus a serotonin blocker to inhibit the drug’s psychedelic effect. Another group will receive psilocybin plus a placebo. The final group will receive a placebo, in addition to the serotonin blocker. All participants will also receive 12 hours of psychotherapy.

this is the second psilocybin clinical trial at CAMH, which was the Canadian site for the world’s largest clinical trial of psilocybin in mental health to date, in 2021.

If the new study shows that psilocybin mushrooms have the same antidepressant effects with or without the psychedelic experience, Husein said it could be a “game changer” for people with treatment-resistant depression who aren’t candidates for a psychedelic high.

“There are certain physical and psychological contraindications to receiving powerful psychoactive drugs like psilocybin,” he said. “If we can show that the psychedelic experience is not entirely necessary, it could lead to a kind of new therapeutic development for the treatment of depression.”

‘HOPE FOR INNOVATION’

One day, Carole Dagher may need to rely on a new treatment. In fact, Dagher thinks it’s inevitable. After years of trying to treat her depression, she is in a good place. But she knows it won’t last.

“I’ll take another dip, no question about it,” Dagher told CTVNews.ca. “This is going to be my life, it’s something I’m going to have to handle.”

Dagher is a patient of Husein’s who suffers from treatment-resistant major depressive disorder and an anxiety disorder. He first developed postpartum depression after the birth of his eldest daughter 12 years ago. His symptoms were aggravated by the trauma of childhood experiences he grew up in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. In the years since his initial diagnosis, he has battled suicidal ideation, tried five classes of antidepressant medication, seen psychologists, and tried repetitive transcranial and electroconvulsive therapy. magnetic stimulation therapy.

After those methods failed, he turned to ketamine therapy, which was approved by Health Canada to treat major depressive disorder in 2020. Ketamine is an anesthetic induces strong psychedelic experiences in therapeutic doses. Dagher called those experiences “horrible” and said they were so excruciating that she nearly quit therapy before finishing her eight sessions. However, she stood her ground and woke up one morning after her last session feeling restored.

“I opened my eyes in the morning and the sky was blue, and the birds were singing, and I smiled for the first time in 12 years and it was a genuine smile,” he said.

She is still doing well, with the help of an antidepressant and regular therapy sessions. But he’s waiting for the day his symptoms stop responding to ketamine. When that day comes, you’ll need to find another treatment, preferably one that won’t make you high. That’s why she sees so much promise in Hussein’s study.

“Without the hope of innovating, I cannot survive another day. I have to believe in my heart that people like Dr. Hussein and hospitals like CAMH will not stop innovating. Ketamine worked now, but it might not work.” later,” he said. he said. “And I’d rather not have the psychedelic trip, and take the [psilocybin] and do your thing.”

On the subject of access to psilocybin therapy, while the Johns Hopkins University scientist david yden agrees that being able to offer the therapy without a psychedelic experience would make it accessible to more people, he is concerned about patients who may want or need the full experience.

Yaden is an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research and has published several scientific articles on the use of psilocybin as a possible treatment.

“What worries me is an unintended side effect of characterizing the acute subjective effects of psychedelics (the trip, so to speak) as an unwanted side effect,” he told CTVNews.ca.

“As long as participants are tested and given psilocybin in a supportive environment, we see that these experiences can be challenging, but are generally very positive and deeply meaningful. That’s exactly what the data says.”

Yaden also believes, based on previous studies, that a dose of psilocybin without the psychedelic side effects is likely to provide only short-term neurobiological benefits. In a report published in December 2020he and fellow Johns Hopkins researcher Roland Griffiths argued that there are complex, long-term changes that can only take place in the brain during a psychedelic experience.

Still, he said the CAMH study is asking important questions in an area of ​​research his team would like to explore further.

“I support research like this study looking at the causal role of acute subjective effects of psychedelics, because I think that’s a very important question to examine,” he said.

“This research is important for both clinical and scientific reasons. It’s great and I’m really glad it’s happening. We’ve been trying to do this research too. I totally agree.”

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If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (or 988 starting July 16, 2022) or Canada’s Talk Suicide at 1-833-456-4566. The following resources are also available to support people in crisis:


Hope for Wellness Helpline (English, French, Cree, Ojibway, and Inuktitut): 1-855-242-3310


Embrace Life Council Hotline: 1-800-265-3333


Trans Lifeline: 1-877-330-6366


Children’s Helpline: 1-800-668-6868

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