Magic mushroom compound shows promise as depression treatment in key study

LONDON, Nov 2 (Reuters) – The main psychoactive ingredient found in magic mushrooms can significantly reduce symptoms of hard-to-treat depression, according to data from the largest clinical trial ever to test the highly watched compound.

The mid-term study, conducted by London-based, Nasdaq-listed COMPASS Pathways (CMPS.O), involved 233 patients with so-called treatment-resistant depression who did not receive at least two antidepressants.

Along with psychological support, each participant received a single dose of 25 mg, 10 mg, or a control dose of 1 mg of a synthetic formulation of the compound psilocybin.

The compound in COMPASS is thought to target parts of the brain intimately involved in processing emotions, said James Rucker, consultant psychiatrist and clinical lecturer at King’s College London, who took part in the study.

Once administered, patients entered a kind of “waking dream” state that lasted between four and six hours. People would come in the morning, have their psychedelic experience, and leave in the afternoon or evening in their baseline state, Rucker said.

Data published in a medical journal showed that patients given the 25 mg dose of psilocybin had statistically significant lower levels of depressive symptoms three weeks after treatment compared to people treated with lower doses.

In addition, about 29% of patients in this group achieved remission on a standardized depression scale.

Given that these patients have limited treatment options and face depression-related stigma, these findings are a step in the right direction, Rucker said.

The results of the trial are positive but not dramatic, warned Ravi Das, associate professor at University College London Institute of Mental Health.

“There was an unequal number of severely depressed patients in each group; with significantly fewer severely depressed people in the apparent ‘effective’ dose group (25 mg). This does not appear to be acknowledged in the article.”

Although patients were recruited only if they were not considered to be at clinically significant risk for suicide, three participants in the 25 mg group exhibited suicidal behavior within 12 weeks of treatment.

In studying depression, suicidality is going to be a hallmark of disease progression, said Guy Goodwin, chief medical officer at COMPASS Pathways.

“Our hypothesis is that the differences are due to chance…but we can only settle that by doing further experiments.”

Data from two late-stage studies testing the compound, which is also being tested as a treatment for PTSD and anorexia nervosa, could be unveiled by the end of 2024 at the earliest, he said.

Existing antidepressants usually take weeks to kick in. Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical concoction of ketamine – the famous party drug that is also a tranquilizer for horses and cats – was approved in 2019.

Psychoactive ingredients, whether derived from cannabis, LSD or magic mushrooms, have long captivated mental health researchers. Psilocybin in most areas is classified as having no medicinal value, falling into the same category as chemicals such as LSD.

Navigating complex legal hurdles to access these compounds has slowed the pace of research, but with motivated scientists and a growing burden of poorly treated mental health issues, the psychedelic research ecosystem has exploded.

But critics fear the burgeoning research could spur the unbridled use of non-pharmaceutical versions of these drugs.

Reporting by Natalie Grover in London; Editing by Josie Kao

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