Small prescriptions of magic mushrooms could help treat conditions like PTSD safely

LONDON — Magic mushrooms could become a safe treatment option for people dealing with mental health conditions like PTSD, according to new research. Researchers from King’s College London found small doses of the psychedelic drug psilocybin, a main ingredient in “magic” mushrooms, are not only good at easing disorders that are resistant to medication, but they also have no short or long-term side-effects in healthy people.

Study authors report that they could safely administer the drug to up to six patients at the same time, using doses of either 10 mg or 25 mg. Their findings are an essential first step for experts looking to prove the safety and feasibility of using psilocybin as a treatment alongside talking therapies for a range of conditions including treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and PTSD.

The psychedelic is the first of its kind to go head-to-head with the traditional and often ineffective treatments on the market. Although early research has hailed mushrooms as a promising treatment, scientists have not conducted human trials on a scale large enough to receive government approval as an official medication.

Investigating the ‘magic’ of the mushroom

Researchers used a sample of 89 participants who hadn’t used psilocybin within a year. They then randomly picked 60 people to receive either a 10 mg or a 25 mg dose of psilocybin in a controlled lab environment.

After administering the doses, the patients received one-to-one support from trained psychotherapists. The remaining 29 participants acted as the control group and received a placebo drug, as well as psychological support.

Scientists closely monitored the group for six to eight hours and then followed up with each person for 12 weeks. During this time, researchers looked for signs of possible changes, including sustained attention, memory, planning, and each patient’s ability to process emotions.

“This rigorous study is an important first demonstration that the simultaneous administration of psilocybin can be explored further,” says Dr. James Rucker, a clinical scientist from the National Institute for Health Research, in a university release.

“If we think about how psilocybin therapy (if approved) may be delivered in the future, it’s important to demonstrate the feasibility and the safety of giving it to more than one person at the same time, so we can think about how we scale up the treatment,” the study lead author continues.

“This therapy has promise for people living with serious mental health problems, like treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and PTSD. They can be extremely disabling, distressing and disruptive, but current treatment options for these conditions are ineffective or partially effective for many people.”

Mushrooms appear safe in small doses

No one withdrew from the study and there were no suggestions that either of the psilocybin doses had any short or long-term negative effects on the participants.

“This study was an early part of our clinical development program for COMP360 psilocybin therapy,” adds Professor Guy Goodwin, the chief medical officer at COMPASS Pathways, who partnered with King’s College London for this study.

“It explored the safety and feasibility of simultaneous psilocybin administration, with 1:1 support, in healthy participants, and provided a strong foundation to which we have now added positive results from our phase IIb trial in 233 patients with TRD, and from our open-label study of patients taking SSRI antidepressants alongside psilocybin therapy,” Prof. Goodwin notes.

The team is now looking to finalize plans for a phase 3 clinical trial, which they hope will start later in 2022. Researchers have already completed phase 2 of the study, which explored the efficacy and safety of psilocybin in people living with depression and PTSD.

The study findings appear in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

South West News Service writer Georgia Lambert contributed to this report.