First head-to-head trial pits psychedelic therapy against antidepressant

A first-of-its-kind clinical trial has pitted a common antidepressant against psilocybin, the main psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms. The results, recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, are decidedly mixed with the primary depression measure revealing no significant difference between the two treatments, but a number of secondary measures notably favoring psilocybin.

As research into psychedelic psychotherapy accelerates around the world it seems as though we may be just a few years away from these paradigm-shifting treatments becoming clinically accessible. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even granted Breakthrough status to psilocybin therapy for both major depressive disorder and treatment-resistant depression, helping speed up ongoing Phase 2 trials.

Although early signs suggest psilocybin psychotherapy may be effective in treating depression, until now there has not been any robust research directly comparing this new treatment to common antidepressant treatments. To fill this gap in the science a team of researchers from Imperial College London’s Centre for Psychedelic Research conducted a phase 2, double-blind, randomized, controlled trial.

The trial recruited 59 adults with moderate to severe depression. Thirty subjects were assigned to the psilocybin arm receiving two active psychedelic therapy sessions three weeks apart. They also received daily placebo pills for the six-week duration of the trial. The antidepressant group received daily doses of escitalopram (commonly known as Lexapro) for six weeks, while also completing two “placebo” psychedelic therapy sessions with an inactive microdose of psilocybin.

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