Home » Business » A landmark study shows the main compound in magic mushrooms could rival a leading depression drug
A landmark study shows the main compound in magic mushrooms could rival a leading depression drug
Imperial College London scientists just published a report on how psychedelics could treat depression.
The study pits psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, against the depression drug escitalopram.
Reduction in depression occurred more quickly with psilocybin, but the differences were not significant.
See more stories on Insider’s business page.
In recent years, research into the use of psychedelics for the treatment of mental-health illnesses has begun to thrive.
Private companies focused on developing psychedelics-based medications for approval by the US Food and Drug Administration have raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year and several have gone public, garnering valuations of more than $1 billion.
Meanwhile, half a dozen prestigious universities in the US and Europe have established centers dedicated to research on psychedelics, a trend fueled by wealthy donors interested in the potential medical benefits of the substances.
But medical research into these mind-altering compounds is still nascent. Psychedelic research was virtually barred for decades and most academic institutions have only recently restarted studies testing psychedelic compounds in people.
That research is beginning to deliver results. On Wednesday, scientists published a milestone report that directly compares psilocybin, the active compound found in magic mushrooms, with the depression drug Lexapro, or escitalopram.
A compound found in magic mushrooms works as well as a major depression pill
The study, in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, shows that psilocybin works about as well as escitalopram to treat patients with moderate or severe major depressive disorder.
Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, led the research team.
He told Insider that while he believes the findings support the potential of psilocybin to be an improvement on current antidepressants, they are also a reality check on what he called “a kind of unbridled optimism about psychedelic therapy” driven by for-profit psychedelics companies and investors.
He added that the findings in the report are consistent with previous studies on the effectiveness of psilocybin as a depression treatment.
The mid-stage trial was small, with just 59 participants, limiting scientists’ ability to draw strong conclusions. About half the volunteers were treated with psilocybin and the other half received escitalopram. All patients received psychological support throughout the trial.
Researchers found that although the reduction in depression occurred more quickly and in “greater magnitude” with psilocybin, the differences between the two treatments was not significant.
“Larger and longer trials are needed to compare psilocybin with established treatments for depression,” the article said.
Companies like Compass Pathways, which is the furthest along in testing psilocybin in clinical trials in the for-profit world, have focused on psilocybin as a treatment for treatment-resistant depression (TRD), or depression that hasn’t improved with at least two forms of treatment.