The psychedelic drug psilocybin – found in “magic mushrooms” performed just as well as a widely used antidepressant in easing the symptoms of major depression, and outperformed the common prescription medication on a range of secondary measures, results of a small-scale phase II study show.
In a 6-week trial that included 59 patients with moderate-to-severe depression, there was no significant difference between the impact of high-dose psilocybin and that of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) escitalopram, sold under the brand name Lexapro.
Patients in the group that received psilocybin did show a much more rapid improvement in the main measure of depression than those taking escitalopram, but this gap narrowed over the span of the trial until it was no longer statistically significant.
“It’s very clear that psilocybin therapy has a faster antidepressant onset than escitalopram.” [said the study’s lead author Robin Carhart-Harris.]
Investigators found that psilocybin bested escitalopram in several secondary outcomes, including feelings of well-being, the ability to express emotion, and social functioning.
Still, the team cautioned that they could draw no conclusions from these secondary measures because larger and longer trials are required.
“But the secondaries were highly suggestive — tantalizingly suggestive — of the potential superiority of psilocybin therapy to treat not just depression, but these ancillary symptoms,” Carhart-Harris said.