The tide is turning in the battle to treat depression.
Gradually, we are becoming more aware of the relative ineffectiveness of pharmaceutical interventions in cases of severe depression, and have developed a healthy suspicion of the involvement of ‘big pharma’ in pushing poorly-researched and questionably justified treatments.
Although pharmaceuticals may work for some people, they certainly don’t work for all – and when they don’t work, they can have disastrous consequences. Up to 44% of people suffering from depression have not found relief from typical antidepressant therapies. Even patients who find some form of relief from the usually prescribed antidepressants need frequent doses, causing unpleasant side-effects, and these drugs often lose their effectiveness after several years of treatment.
What’s the first step in breaking free of this ‘pharmaceuticals for all’ view of psychiatry?
A growing body of evidence suggests that psychedelic fungi could be the answer to our pharmaceutical epidemic. Recent large studies, using psilocybin mushrooms, have shown that a single moderate dose of these substances can significantly reduce depression scores in patients with treatment-resistant depression. The antidepressant effect of psychedelics also lasts much longer than typical treatments, with reduced depression scores maintained for several months after treatment.
Scientists believe that the reason psychedelics have such a profound antidepressive effect is because of the unique way they work in the brain. Psychedelics appear to deactivate a control network in the brain called the Default Mode Network (DMN), which is normally responsible for self-reflection and maintaining a sense of self. The DMN is found to be overactive in depressed patients, perhaps linked to the repetitive and obsessive negative thoughts sufferers experience. Therefore psychedelics, by taking control away from the DMN, maybe allowing sufferers of depression to break free from negative, spiraling thoughts.
Psychedelics in Treating Depression
Another reason that psychedelics appear to be so effective in treating depression is due to their ability to induce a ‘mystical’ experience. Participants who describe a highly spiritual or personally meaningful experience with psilocybin were more likely to have reductions in depression scores, according to one study. It appears that there’s something special about having a transcendental encounter during treatment.
This sort of holistic healing is far removed from typical pharmaceutical interventions in the treatment of depression. Taking an SSRI will not produce a mystical experience that can show you the root of your suffering – nor will it reduce the control of the DMN on your thoughts.