January 2, 2024

One In Seven People In Derbyshire Are Suffering From Depression. Can Psilocybin Therapy Change This Trend?

One in seven people in Derbyshire are living with depression or anxiety, according to a survey of patients registered with GPs. Figures from Public Health England show that 14.1% of registered patients in the area were suffering from at least one of the mental health conditions at the start of last year. 

The medical community has been increasingly interested in classic psychedelics, especially psilocybin, for treating mental health conditions like major depressive disorder (MDD). Found in magic mushrooms, psilocybin has shown promising results in clinical trials, indicating a potential change in the way we treat depression. 

Beyond personal suffering, depression often leads to major life disruptions, including missed work, strained relationships, and substance use disorders.

Depressive Disorders and Their Assessment 

Depressive disorders are a group of mental health conditions characterised primarily by persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, and a range of other emotional and physical symptoms. These disorders can significantly impact a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall functioning. The most common types of depressive disorders include:

1. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Characterised by intense and persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, often accompanied by a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, changes in appetite and sleep, and difficulty concentrating.

2. Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)

A chronic form of depression where individuals experience a depressed mood for most of the day, more days than not, for at least two years. 

3. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

A type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer.

4. Bipolar Disorder

Although characterised by mood swings that include both depressive and manic episodes, the depressive phases of bipolar disorder are typically similar to those of major depressive disorder.

5. Postpartum Depression

A specific type of depression occurs after childbirth, characterised by extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that may interfere with a woman’s ability to care for herself or her family.

Using Psilocybin

Psilocybin is an active ingredient in some species of mushrooms. It’s known for causing mood, thought, and perception changes when ingested. These effects occur because psilocybin acts on specific brain parts related to mood and cognition. 

Clinical Studies and Results

A recent study published in JAMA highlights the efficacy of psilocybin in treating MDD. This phase 2 trial, involving 104 participants, compared the effects of a single dose of psilocybin with an active placebo (niacin). The results showed a notable improvement in depression scores among psilocybin recipients, with effects lasting up to six weeks. 

Participants also reported decreased severity of disease, reduced anxiety symptoms, and enhanced quality of life. Notably, unlike traditional antidepressants, psilocybin did not lead to emotional blunting.

Comparison with Traditional Antidepressants

Traditional antidepressants improve symptoms in about 40% to 60% of people with moderate or severe depression. However, they come with side effects like headaches, dizziness, and sexual dysfunction, often leading to discontinuation of treatment. In contrast, psilocybin, administered with psychological support, has shown a rapid, robust, and sustained reduction in depressive symptoms without these adverse effects.

The Process of Psilocybin Therapy

Psilocybin therapy is an innovative approach for treating mental health conditions, particularly depression, combining the use of the psychedelic compound psilocybin with guided psychological support. The process begins with a thorough screening to ensure the patient’s suitability for the therapy. This is followed by preparatory sessions where therapists set expectations and explain the process in detail.

During the actual psilocybin session, patients receive a controlled dose of the compound in a safe, calming environment. Throughout this session, which can last several hours, therapists remain present to provide support and ensure the patient’s safety. During this time, patients might experience profound emotional and cognitive changes.

After the session, patients enter the integration phase of therapy. This involves processing their experiences with the guidance of therapists, helping them draw insights and make meaningful connections to their personal lives. This stage is essential for translating the psychedelic experience into tangible therapeutic outcomes.

Regular follow-up sessions are conducted to monitor the patient’s progress and adapt the treatment as necessary. The overarching goal of psilocybin therapy is not just symptom alleviation but also the promotion of personal growth and psychological well-being.

Limitations and Ongoing Research

Despite these promising results, experts caution that current studies, though significant, are relatively small and have limitations. Most participants in these trials are heavily screened and monitored, which might not represent the broader population. Ongoing research is focusing on various mental health conditions, including treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

Key Takeaways

The exploration of psilocybin as a treatment for depression represents a significant shift in psychiatric care. With its potential to provide relief for patients who do not respond to traditional antidepressants, psilocybin could revolutionise our approach to mental health treatment. However, it is crucial to continue rigorous research, consider legal and ethical implications, and prioritise patient safety in the journey towards integrating psychedelics into mainstream medicine.

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