Small doses of psilocybin, the active compound found in magic mushrooms, could be safely used to treat a range of mental health disorders, new research shows.
Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London have found that psilocybin, administered in 10 or 25 mg doses, has no negative effects on cognitive and emotional function.
The study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, aimed to investigate the safety of psilocybin in healthy volunteers. The psychedelic doses of psilocybin were well-tolerated in all participants, with no short- or long-term side effects. The results indicate that psilocybin could feasibly be used to treat depressive disorders and other mental health conditions.
During the small-scale study, which had only 89 volunteers, 60 participants were randomly selected to receive either a 10 or 25 mg dose of psilocybin. The remaining participants received a placebo.
The study was conducted in a controlled environment, with each participant receiving one-to-one support from a trained psychotherapist for 6 to 8 hours after drug administration. Any reported side effects were minor, and no participants withdrew from the study due to an adverse event.
The trial was the first of its kind to simultaneously administer psilocybin to up to 6 participants. Dr James Rucker, the study’s lead author, told King’s College London, “if we think about how psilocybin therapy (if approved) may be delivered in the future, it’s important to demonstrate the feasibility and the safety of giving it to more than one person at the same time, so we can think about how we scale up the treatment.
“This therapy has promise for people living with serious mental health problems, like treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and PTSD. They can be extremely disabling, distressing and disruptive, but current treatment options for these conditions are ineffective or partially effective for many people.”
At present, the primary treatment for depression is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Limited by their delayed onset of action and long-term side effects, SSRIs are known to cause sleep disturbances, sexual dysfunction, and emotional blunting.
Participants of this study were monitored for 12 weeks after the psychedelic session and showed no long-term changes to their cognitive and emotional functions. These findings indicate that psilocybin could be a more advantageous intervention for depressive disorders.
In the UK, psilocybin remains a Schedule 1 drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Its possession and supply are illegal, but the powerful therapeutic properties of psilocybin could lead to a change in its legal status.
The study has been described by Kings College London as “an essential first step in demonstrating the safety and feasibility of psilocybin” for potential future clinical use.
The research was funded by COMPASS pathways, a pharmaceutical company specialising in psychedelic therapy. COMPASS pathways have completed Phase II trials of psilocybin in patients with treatment-resistant depression, with positive results. The trial will move to Phase III later in 2022.