How Can Psilocybin Assist Treatment-Resistant Depression?

June 1, 2021 10:30 am ET
How Can Psilocybin Assist Treatment-Resistant Depression?

Note: Veriheal does not support illegally consuming therapeutic substances like psilocybin magic mushrooms but acknowledges that it transpires because of the current illicit status of both, which we strive to change by advocating for research, legal access, and responsible consumption. Always consult a physician before attempting alternative therapies.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that there are around 17.3 million adults in America who’ve faced at least one depressive episode in their lifetime- most of which were able to improve through the help of antidepressant treatments. However, there are those who are faced with Treatment-Resistant Depression which remains persistent despite efforts for improvement. 

Finding a Solution for Treatment-Resistant Depression is Vital

Treatment-Resistant Depression is when an individual with depression does not respond to standard treatments. In other words, treatment for depression is not alleviating any symptoms. Normally, an individual would be taking antidepressants or undergoing psychological counseling- which would then alleviate the depression. So what happens when your depression is not responding to the treatment?

Leading health organizations such as The Mayo Clinic often outline strategies, several of which are medication-based. Those strategies include giving current medication more time, increasing the dose, and switching antidepressants…so many pharmaceuticals which are all associated with side effects such as nausea, weight gain, blurred vision, insomnia, loss of sexual drive, etc. Fortunately, recent research on psilocybin shows promise for how using the botanical substance to alleviate treatment-resistant depression.  

The acclaimed author of Harry Potter, J.K Rowling, stated that “It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who’s never been there because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling—that really hollowed-out feeling”. Depression can be lonely and even dangerous when left unchecked- which is what makes finding alleviation for Treatment-Resistant Depression so vital. 

For more on depression, be sure to check out this article. 

How Can Psilocybin Assist?

In order to understand how psilocybin can assist with Treatment-Resistant Depression (TRD), let’s have a look at this 2021 published study which found that psilocybin may work as effectively as common antidepressants– now I know what you’re thinking… How can such a substance assist when they may only work as effectively as the current medication proved ineffective for this type of depression? Well, let’s find out. 

The 2021 published clinical study reported its findings in the “New England Journal of Medicine”. The study compared “the effectiveness of commonly prescribed antidepressants with therapeutic doses of psilocybin”. While the study did find psilocybin effective for depression, it also found “a significant difference in antidepressant effects between psilocybin and escitalopram (a common antidepressant)”. Despite the fact that psilocybin did not prove to be more effective than antidepressants, another study found that it is more effective than common treatments in terms of assisting with TRD. 

This study conducted theirs on the basis that “clinical trials are reporting marked improvements in mental health outcomes with psychedelic drug-assisted psychotherapy”. So, Researchers Carhart-Harris, Bolstridge, Day, and team sought to report on the safety and efficacy of the outcomes of psilocybin on TRD for up to 6 months in an open-label trial. The team of researchers found that the psilocybin was well tolerated by the participants and that reductions in depressive symptoms were observed from 5 weeks post-treatment. At the same time, 5 weeks post-treatment, “nine and four patients met the criteria for response and remission at week 5”. 

Additionally, at the 5-week mark, none of the participants sought out further antidepressant treatment after having been treated with psilocybin. When assessing the participants again, the team found a continuing positive response to the psilocybin at 3 and 6 months. The team concluded by stating that despite the “limited conclusions” which can be made from an open-label trial, they found that “tolerability was good, effect sizes large and symptom improvements appeared rapidly after just two psilocybin treatment sessions and remained significant 6 months post-treatment in a treatment-resistant cohort”. 

Psilocybin Interacts With Seratonin Receptors

The psilocybin in magic mushrooms, or shrooms, has the ability to deliver mind-altering effects which is why people with depression can benefit from the substance. While this study explains that psilocybin has a “high affinity for several serotonin receptors” which are “located in numerous areas of the brain, including the cerebral cortex and thalamus”. The relationship between serotonin and depression is explained by the fact that serotonin is the brain’s “happy” chemical that influences mood. Higher levels of serotonin are linked to elevated mood and feeling happy, whereas lower levels of serotonin are linked to sadness and depression. 

Since psilocybin has a “high affinity” for the receptors of this “happy” chemical, it stands to reason that psilocybin can boost the chemical, thereby gearing consumers towards the state associated with higher levels of serotonin. This is what researchers are confirming and why it makes for a viable and effective means of alleviating depression. Unfortunately, limited research is being conducted since the substance is still widely illegal. 

Psilocybin is quickly gaining support for its continued promise in being a powerful therapeutic substance with the potential to alleviate an array of conditions- much like cannabis. At the moment, it is anyone’s guess as to whether the psilocybin will be removed from its federally-imposed schedule 1 listing. Fortunately, research such as this provides hope where some may feel there is none- such as is the case in Treatment-Resistant Depression. 

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