Psilocybin: Are Magic Mushrooms Antidepressant?

Updated: 6/18/2022 – 13:24

A new therapeutic approach
With “Magic Mushrooms” against depression


Photo: Getty Images / MICROGEN IMAGES / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Psilocybin contained in “Magic Mushrooms” has a positive effect in the treatment of depression.

In “Magic Mushrooms” it is illegal here, but it can help with depression: psilocybin is not tested as a drug, but in psychotherapy.

Depression is a hidden common disease that is finally being talked about more and more honestly. But despite all the advances, the topic of mental illness is still a topic of taboo and shame. Especially when, despite the best efforts, there is no or insufficient improvement.


Psychotherapy and psychotropic medications restore the mental health of many – but not all, people who are depressed. To help people who are unresponsive to current drugs and methods, researchers are breaking new ground – one of which: psilocybin.


“Magiczne Muhsrooms”: With psilocybin against depression


Psilocybin is an active ingredient of the so-called “Magic mushrooms”, or mushrooms, the consumption of which causes a state of intoxication. In many cultures, such as Latin America, these mushrooms have been used in spiritual rituals for centuries, in Germany they are illegal as narcotic drugs, even if they have been known for a long time. In the 1950s, the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann succeeded in isolating the hallucinogenic active ingredient from certain types of mushrooms. This means that this was the first time that the possibility of psilocybin made in the laboratory had arisen. This was an important prerequisite to be able to use it as a research drug as purity and potency must be controlled.

The active ingredient psilocybin is gaining importance today in the treatment of a variety of mental disorders. In the USA, Switzerland and the Netherlands, there are already a number of studies and examples of applications in which the substance is used, for example, in post-traumatic stress disorders, in the palliative area or in the treatment of depression. The first research with the active ingredient psilocybin is currently also conducted in Germany under the direction of the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim. Research coordinator and PhD student Lea Mertens explains how psilocybin can be applied in psychotherapy and what are the first experiences of the study.

How Does Psilocybin Work in the Brain?


Mertens: “As with all psychotropic drugs, it is not possible to pinpoint 100% exactly which processes are triggered by psilocybin in the brain. However, we know from research that psilocybin has an effect on important neurotransmitters in the brain, primarily serotonin, a lack of which is involved in the development of depression. When psilocybin is ingested, the body converts it into the substance psilocin, which binds to certain serotonin receptors in the brain, among others. brain, thus activating it.



On the other hand, antidepressants such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) ensure that more serotonin remains between synapses, thereby increasing its levels in the brain. We also know that psilocin is potent in the prefrontal cortex, an area of ​​the brain important for memory and emotional evaluation. It is a factor in the production of psychedelic effects of psilocybin – e.g., visual pseudohallucinations or spiritual experiences. “


Even with well-known psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants and sleeping pills, it is not entirely clear how they work, ultimately it varies from person to person. It’s important to take it correctly – these common mistakes should be avoided.


What are the stages of the study?


Mertens: “First, there are preparatory sessions with the patient and two therapists, therapists in psychological psychotherapy and medicine. The current condition and possible problem areas of patients are discussed and prepared for psychedelic experiences. Mindfulness is trained, because it is important to openly enter into this experience and try to experience it first of all without judging it. There were two psychotherapeutic sessions and seven psychotherapeutic sessions per patient in our study. Most patients would probably benefit from more treatment sessions, but that is not what our current study design foresees. In a research study, we must strictly follow a predefined procedure. “


What happens when you take psilocybin?


Mertens: “Participants receive either 5 or 25 mg of psilocybin or a placebo, ie a dummy drug, so that the effectiveness of psilocybin can be tested. The session with the substances then takes place in a pleasant atmosphere, in a comfortably furnished room, with appropriate music and it takes about six hours from the moment of taking psilocybin until the effects wear off, depending on the person. Patients lie still in bed, with a sleeping mask and headphones, and are completely focused on their inner experience. Therapists are constantly and regularly asking if everything is still alright. Then they stay overnight and are encouraged to write down their experiences, i.e. writing in a journal or painting. a therapeutic conversation in which the experience is discussed ”.



How is the hallucinogenic experience used in therapy?


Mertens: “In therapy sessions following psilocybin experiences, the subjects’ feelings and experiences are discussed, how they relate to their previously identified problem areas, and whether and how this affected their depressive symptoms. To measure the severity of depression, we used standardized questionnaires, also to be able to spot changes. Interestingly, some patients have so far noticed an improvement in their condition, even though it cannot be so clearly defined on a depression scale. ‘


Who can (not) take part in the study?


Mertens: “All subjects selected for the study had refractory, moderate to severe depression. Treatment resistance means they have tried at least two antidepressants with no improvement. However, most have had multiple treatment failures, and some participants also have depression chronic depression For safety reasons, those who have had psychotic symptoms in the past or have close family members with psychotic illnesses are unable to participate as it is unclear whether psilocybin can (re ) to activate or not have acute post-traumatic stress disorder present bipolar disorder or bipolar disorder ”.


Psilocybin in Psychotherapy – Why Only Now?


Mertens: “For a long time people in Germany have been very cautious about psilocybin-assisted therapy because the substance is still banned as a common intoxicant. Our study is the first of its kind in Germany, and we have had to prepare it over the years in order to obtain approval and funding. Treatment results from Other countries, such as Switzerland, however, have demonstrated the potential of psilocybin to treat mental illness, especially in people who have not yet received sufficient assistance. . on this issue will also continue in Germany in the coming years. “


The EPIsoDE study is still ongoing and two sites in Germany are involved. Mannheim Central Institute of Mental Health is responsible. The project partner and the second research center is the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the Charité Berlin Campus Mitte. More information on the research and use of psychedelic substances in psychotherapy and psychiatry can be found at the MIND Foundation.


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