Bad news for Big Pharma as researchers at Imperial College London’s Centre for Psychedelic Research claim psilocybin—or “magic mushrooms” (the safest recreational drug to take) —could replace prescribed antidepressants within five years.
Dr Robin Earhart-Harris, head of the world’s first psychedelic research centre leading a team investigating how psilocybin mushrooms (currently banned in the UK) can ease depression symptoms compared to antidepressants, says psilocybin gives participants a cathartic emotional ‘release’, while antidepressants leave them feeling ‘blunted’.
For the current trial, 60 participants with moderate to severe depression will receive psilocybin treatment accompanied by a therapy session with a clinical psychologist. The participants will also be randomly allocated to receive either a placebo or escitalopram, with neither researchers or patients knowing who is in each group. The effects of taking psilocybin will be compared with escitalopram, a type of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which account for the largest chunk of the antidepressant market. Dr Robin added:
“If you ask people who are taking SSRIs chronically, they often say ‘I feel blunted’ [meaning both negative and positive emotions are suppressed]. With psilocybin therapy they say the opposite, they talk about an emotional release, a reconnection, and this key emotional centre being more responsive.”
But the therapy isn’t for everyone, Dr Robin warns saying people with psychosis and regulators will need evidence of its effectiveness and safety from clinical trials.
“We call it a “challenging psychological experience” and we’re honest with people that it can be hellish. However, our team is prepared for such episodes. If psilocybin mushrooms overtake SSRIs in effectiveness and popularity, it could have a huge impact on the power of big pharma.”
According to Mental Health Foundation, 19.7% Britishers over 16 showed symptoms of depression or anxiety in 2014. According to a Freedom of Information request, more than 7.3 million Britishers were prescribed antidepressants between 2017 and 2018.
No wonder the market for antidepressants is a lucrative one. Between 2005 and 2015, the use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications soared in the United States. The global antidepressant drugs market is expected to reach a whopping $15.98 billion by 2023.
If research continues to prove the safety and effectiveness of psilocybin therapy, it would undoubtedly upset Big Pharma and their profits. He told The Independent:
“I would imagine if you had some bookmakers doing the odds, there would be strong odds on that [psychedelic therapy] will be licensed sometime in the next five to 10 years – maybe sooner. The implications of that are actually frightening to me, thinking of the power and influence of big pharma. What are they going to do with that if there’s this big public demand for the ‘mushroom therapy’, and not the Prozac?”
A similar research at John Hopkins University suggests victims of emotional trauma may experience more long-term relief when using natural psilocybin than prescribed antidepressants. Medium quoted Roland Griffiths, a psychopharmacologist and a researcher at Johns Hopkins investigating the effects of the classic hallucinogen psilocybin, as saying:
“When following up one month after treatment, researchers found an overwhelming majority of volunteers reported increases in various personal and behavioural qualities such as “positive attitudes about life and self, positive mood changes, spirituality,” and “altruism/positive social effects,” which had a dose-related correlation to their psilocybin session.”
FYI: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved the first US clinical trials using psilocybin from magic mushrooms to treat depression in August last year.