Researchers look to "magic mushrooms" to treat depression

June 10, 2019

New trials have shown the drug psilocybin - the active ingredient of magic mushrooms - to be effective in treating depression, and U.S. cities are starting to decriminalize it.

Scientists say psilocybin works on serotonin systems to heighten emotional responses and encourage people to actively confront their depression, which can prompt enduring shifts in mind-set.

A trial at Imperial College London, finished in 2016, was the first modern study to target treatment-resistant depression with psilocybin. In January this year, the trial launched its second stage: an ambitious effort to test psilocybin on a larger group and with more scientific rigor (including a control group, which the first study lacked), comparing the drug’s performance with escitalopram, a common antidepressant.

Some researchers are hoping that new studies will lead to psilocybins, as well as other psychedelics and hallucinogens, medical approval as a transformative treatment.The FDA has granted MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy) breakthrough status in phase 3 trials, thus fast-tracking the approval process. Psilocybin itself is undergoing two separate clinical trials.

Meanwhile, the psilocybin decriminalization movement is escalating. Recently, the Oakland, California city council voted unanimously to decriminalize a range of psychedelic plants, including mushrooms and cacti. Denver voters in May approved a similar measure. And Oregon is considering a measure in 2020 to allow access to “guided psilocybin services,” while lowering penalties for possession.