'Magic mushroom therapy' to treat depression could happen in UK inside a year
Twenty six patients with a history of serious depression to take part in a trialTrial planned by Professor David Nutt who was sacked as Government's chief drug adviser
A clinical trial of 'magic mushroom therapy' could take place in the UK within a year following two ground-breaking studies.
Doctors plan to treat depressed patients who cannot be helped by modern drugs or behaviour-based psychotherapy with the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Psilocybin would slowly be infused into their bloodstreams while they receive a carefully tailored 'talking therapy'.
Hallucinogenic: Volunteers are to be given the active ingredient in magic mushrooms in a controversial study to test whether they may help in cases of depression
The controversial trial is planned by Professor David Nutt, from Imperial College London, who three years ago was sacked as the Government’s chief drug adviser.
Prof Nutt, former chairman of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), clashed with then Home Secretary Alan Johnson after criticising the decision to toughen the law on cannabis.
The move to investigate psilocybin as a possible treatment for serious depression is linked to results from two far-reaching scientific studies.
In one, volunteers were given psilocybin infusions while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans.
The findings, reported today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed the drug disconnected two key 'hub' regions of the brain with multiple connections to other areas.
One of these regions, the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is known to be hyperactive in people with depression.
other, the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) at the back of the brain,
is thought to play a role in consciousness and self-identity.
second study, soon to be published in the British Journal of
Psychiatry, found that the magic mushroom chemical enhanced memories
associated with positive emotions.
showed that the memory experience was very “real”. Activity was
increased in brain regions that processed vision and other sensory
Prof Nutt said the findings were 'a revelation'.
are thought of as ‘mind-expanding’ drugs so it has commonly been
assumed that they work by increasing brain activity, but surprisingly,
we found that psilocybin actually caused activity to decrease in areas
that have the densest connections with other areas.
Professor David Nutt was sacked as the Government’s chief drug adviser after claiming science did not
support the decision to re-classify cannabis as a class C
'These hubs constrain our experience of the world and keep it orderly. We now know that deactivating these regions leads to a state in which the world is experienced as strange.'
It is the first time serious research has been carried out on the effects of 'psychedelic' drugs for more than 50 years.
In the 1950s and 1960s, scientists investigating drugs such as LSD and psilocybin carried out studies on around 40,000 patients and published 1,000 papers.
Such work was brought to an abrupt halt when the drugs came to be seen as social evils and were made illegal.
'They got banned because they could be society changing,' said Prof Nutt.
'There was great concern about that. Since then they’ve been virtually impossible to research.'
He said finding support for the new studies had been 'damned difficult'.
Neither the Medical Research Council (MRC) nor the Wellcome Trust, Britain’s biggest research charity, had been willing to fund them.
And both Nature and Science, the two most prestigious scientific journals, refused to publish the findings.
Now the MRC is said to be showing interest in the planned clinical trial, which Prof Nutt believes could be undertaken this year with sufficient backing.
Twenty six patients with a history of serious depression which cannot be treated with drugs or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are expected to take part.
Half will be treated with psilocybin while trained psychotherapists prompt them to recollect happy memories and think positively.
Findings from the earlier research suggest the positive effects of the drug might be long-lasting, or even permanent.
After the treatment, the patients’ progress will be monitored for a year.
Their responses will be compared with those of a 'placebo group' of another 13 patients given infusions of a salt solution containing no psilocybin.