Psilocybin treatment for major depression effective for up to a year for most patients, study shows

Previous studies by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers showed that psychedelic treatment with psilocybin relieved major depressive disorder symptoms in adults for up to a month. Now, in a follow-up study of those participants, the researchers report that the substantial antidepressant effects of psilocybin-assisted therapy, given with supportive psychotherapy, may last at least a year for some patients.

A report on the new study was published on Feb. 15, 2022 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

“Our findings add to evidence that, under carefully controlled conditions, this is a promising therapeutic approach that can lead to significant and durable improvements in depression,” says Natalie Gukasyan, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She cautions, however, that “the results we see are in a research setting and require quite a lot of preparation and structured support from trained clinicians and therapists, and people should not attempt to try it on their own.”

Over the last 20 years, there has been a growing renaissance of research with classic psychedelics — the pharmacological class of compounds that include psilocybin, an ingredient found in so-called magic mushrooms. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, psilocybin can produce perceptual changes, altering a person’s awareness of their surroundings and of their thoughts and feelings. Treatment with psilocybin has shown promise in research settings for treating a range of mental health disorders and addictions.

For this study, the researchers recruited 27 participants with a long-term history of depression, most of whom had been experiencing depressive symptoms for approximately two years before recruitment. The average age of participants was 40, 19 were women, and 25 identified as white, one as African American and one as Asian. Eighty-eight percent of the participants had previously been treated with standard antidepressant medications, and 58% reported using antidepressants in their current depressive episodes.

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