Promising Magic Mushrooms Pilot for Treatment of Depression

When it comes to treating mental health problems such as depression, certain treatments are used much more often than others; some of these treatments include cognitive behavioural therapy and medication. However, new studies have found that treating patients suffering from incurable depression with magic mushrooms has had remarkable results.

Of the twelve patients involved in the pilot trial, eight had reduced symptoms just one week after taking Class A psilocybin, which is extracted from magic mushrooms. Three months later, five of the eight remained free from depression while another two continued to show improved symptoms.

The Trial

During selection, volunteers were screened and anyone with a history of drug addiction, psychosis or attempted suicide were excluded. The trial involved patients taking the drug and getting high in the same way that those who use it recreationally would. Every patient was given psychological support to help them deal with the hallucinogenic effects of the ‘trip’.

Each patient was affected by anxiety but some also experienced nausea, confusion, headaches, and paranoia.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, who was the lead scientist on the study, said, “Sometimes people have what they describe as mystical or spiritual-type experiences – that’s not uncommon, particularly with the high dose. So it’s important that we provide psychological support afterwards.”

He pointed out that the side effects experienced by some of the patients were things that were generally predicted and were ‘relatively mild’. He added, “Nevertheless, the limitation of this treatment is the acute experience itself. It can be … psychologically challenging.”

Alternative Treatment

The patients involved in the trial had all been diagnosed with moderate or severe depression but had failed to respond to two alternative treatments. The age range of participants was 30 to 64, with the average time spent suffering from depression being eighteen years.

Dr Carhart-Harris said, “This isn’t a magic cure, but even so, the effects at this stage do look promising.”

During the trial, participants were provided with a small 10 mg dose of psilocybin initially, followed by 25 mg one week later. Scientists assessed the patients after the initial dose and then at stages following the second dose.

Nonetheless, with no placebo given and all patients aware of the drug they took, there is some uncertainty regarding the reliability of the results.

New Treatments Needed

Dr Carhart-Harris said, “New treatments are urgently needed, and our study shows that psilocybin is a promising area of future research. The results are encouraging, and we now need larger trials to understand whether the effects we saw in this study translate into long-term benefits and to study how psilocybin compares to other current treatments.”

He and his team are hoping to get funding for a large trial where psilocybin could be tested alongside a dummy drug or an alternative treatment.

Red Tape

According to Professor David Nutt who was involved in the trial, one of the biggest obstacles to testing patients with drugs such as psilocybin is red tape. He said that the cost to treat each participant was £1,500 because of regulations. He added that it should only have cost £30 per patient. He said of psilocybin, “Because it’s Schedule One, it’s subject to a whole panoply of regulations that make research almost impossible.”

He added that by reclassifying the drug as a Schedule Two drug, the obstacles could be lifted overnight as doctors could then prescribe the drug if necessary.

There is still a long way to go in terms of using drugs such as psilocybin to treat incurable depression, but if the team gets more funding, it may pave the way for an effective new treatment for such conditions.


  1. Magic mushrooms could be prescribed for people with depression, new research suggests (