By Sean O’Malley, Senior Writer
Despite promising results as far back as the 1960’s, the clinical study of all psychedelic drugs as a potential therapeutic for treatment-resistant depression and other major mental illnesses was banned for decades for largely political reasons. That freeze on research has lifted in recent years, with several small studies showing promising results.
Recently, one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), published the largest clinical trial of its kind on the potential benefits of psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”, for treatment-resistant depression.
The purpose of the clinical trial was to investigate the safety and efficacy of psilocybin at different doses. One group of participants was given a large dose, while others received a moderate dose, or a placebo-like dose. All participants received psychological support prior to, during, and after the psilocybin dosing sessions. The trial took place at 22 sites in 10 countries, and CAMH was the only Canadian site to participate.
In an accompanying editorial, the NEJM called the results of its clinical trial “intriguing and sobering.” Intriguing because the results showed that one in three study participants with depression that had previously been treatment-resistant reported a complete absence of symptoms. The results were also sobering because psilocybin’s safety has not yet been established and there were serious adverse effects among participants in all three treatment arms, among these, self-harm and suicidal ideation. It remains unknown whether those adverse effects were because of the drug itself or a result of distress from participants who did not benefit from participation in the trial.
More clinical trials will be necessary to determine if psilocybin can be used safely in a clinical setting.