Psychedelics Show Promise in Treating Depression

By Liza Gross | May 1, 2017 10:59 am

(Credit: Future Vectors/Shutterstock)

Depression is challenging to manage, especially since many antidepressants can take weeks to work and simply fail for nearly one-third of sufferers. New research presented in April at the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in Oakland, California, suggests psychedelic drugs can help people battling depression and other psychiatric disorders that defy conventional therapies.

Brewing Up a Mood Boost

Dráulio Barros de Araújo, a neuroscientist at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, presented new findings from a study that used ayahuasca — a hallucinogenic brew of bark and leaves that groups indigenous to the Amazon use in healing ceremonies — to help treat depression. (The study hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet but is available here.)

In a 2015 pilot study, Araújo and his team showed that one dose of ayahuasca (between roughly four to seven ounces) quickly alleviated depression in six Brazilian volunteers without serious side effects. Encouraged by these results, he repeated the study in 2016 with 17 volunteers. Again, participants tolerated the psychedelic concoction and experienced relief that lasted throughout the 21-day trial.

But, Araújo says, “The main problem with these studies is that we didn’t control for the placebo.” In drug trials, a placebo is a sham substance with no active ingredients. Researchers use it to suss out the effects of the drug they’re testing from a person’s expectation that taking a pill will help them. Controlling for this placebo effect is especially important in depression trials, since studies show up to 40 percent of patients respond to a placebo, though that effect is short-lived.


Ayahuasca before it is cooked and served as a tea. (Credit: Terpsichore/Shutterstock)

So he designed a placebo-controlled study for 35 volunteers who’d tried at least two different conventional antidepressants to no avail. They were randomly assigned to receive either a single dose of ayahuasca or the placebo, an inert brown, bitter brew that looked and tasted like ayahuasca. Neither investigators nor patients knew who got what.

People in both groups started feeling better the next day. But a week later, the difference between the two groups became apparent: those who took ayahuasca experienced a substantial drop in the severity of their depression.

The Magic of Mushrooms

Another study presented at the conference, led by Leor Roseman, a doctoral neuroscience student at Imperial College London, reported similar results using psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound in “magic” mushrooms.

In Roseman’s study, also yet-to-be published, 20 volunteers with treatment-resistant depression received two doses spaced a week apart. The first dose was a teaser to prepare them for the main event — a second dose large enough to produce a strong psychedelic experience.


Researchers are delving into the science of tripping and its healing potential

During their clinically induced trips, participants listened to music with their eyes covered to facilitate introspection, while two therapists recorded the participant’s experience. Of the 19 people who completed the study, most showed dramatic improvements up to a week after the sessions. Their gains persisted for about five weeks, at which point some people continued to improve while some got worse.


Researchers at Johns Hopkins University (not associated with the current study) create a comfortable environment during a therapy session using psychedelics. (Credit: Matthew W. Johnson/Wikemedia Commons)

So what was the difference between those who responded well and those who didn’t? The intensity of a person’s peak experience, Roseman says. This so-called peak experience is associated with several psychological states, including a sense of unity and dissolution of self, positive mood and insight. The more intense the peak (and the more intense these psychological states), the more improvement people experienced.

Collectively, these findings offer a glimpse into the potential of psychedelics. Unlike conventional medications, which tend to dampen positive emotions along with the negative, psychedelics like ayahuasca and psilocybin intensify both the good and bad. This helps people work through their painful memories with a therapist in ways they couldn’t before. It’s psychedelic drugs’ power to produce a profound psychological experience, researchers hope, that will put patients on the path to lasting recovery.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
  • Uncle Al

    Depression is a luxury. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, terrorist attacks, utilities’ maiins’ failure, riots…hot war up close and personnel…nobody says “I’m depressed.”

    Depression is the normal human reaction to living in a toxic society impressed by corrupt and uncaring government eager to remove your wealth lest you trespass upon its monopoly of spending it unwisely, carefully rendering you bored rather than fearful.

    A functional cure for depression: Youtube v=Xbf61_Fgldo Pacifist Dr. Sidney Schaefer finally takes up an automatic weapon, engages some serious human slaughter at The Phone Company, and is cured. It is as simple as that. Brothels also work – but that is immoral.

    • Magic Mushrooms

      You have many thoughts that some may consider to be way out there. I’m glad we live in a such a place where you are free to share them freely even if not everyone agrees. Perhaps a dose of me will open your even deeper thoughts up for you to share with the world.

      • Uncle Al

        Heteronormatism problematizes homosocial othering.

        • Magic Mushrooms

          Yes and ontogeny generally recapitulates phylogeny my loquacious friend.

          • B. Dickey

            Locutus?! Locutus is here?! I’m getting out of here, I’m not getting assimilated!!

        • j2saret

          Cute who’s hand was up your a$$ flapping your gums as they said it?

    • Santino Corleone

      Maybe what you describe exists, but depression is not = depression. There are many causes for depression and not all people will get depressive in the environment you describe whereas other will get depressive in a great environmental setting.

      A depression is not a normal reaction (what you may mean is a depressive reaction or reactive state of depression) and certainly not a luxury!!!

      What we talk about here is a disease. A state that is dysfunctional and that cannot always be “normalized” by addressing the causes we already know (including your points).

      • Erik Gibson

        I quit earning a living at shopritte and after that at the moment I am getting Seventy five $ – Ninety Seven $ per/hr. How? I am only working on the internet! My employment didn’t make me happy and so I made the decision to take a possibility on something new…after just 4 years it wasn’t easy to stop my day work however right now I couldn’t be more satisfied.>>> SHRTY.LINK/sWPGJq

    • Daniel Bourke

      Calling depression a “luxury” is utterly bereft of empathy for the plight of the individual, making commentary on the validity of someone’s sadness in comparisons bewteen an individuals depression and events such as terrorist attacks is preposterous.

      We are talking here about an individual existential crisis which extends the individual to his her limits of their capacity to cope often resulting in death. Indeed, resulting in death in far mor instances than any of the natural events your describe.

      The crowd is made up of the individual, the individual should be the pre-eminently celebrated aspect of humanity within society and we should not pass off depression as s luxury. This strikes me as old style thinking. The kind of “get yourself up by the bootstraps” thinking of our father’s fathers.

      I’m not saying there aren’t depressives whose depression is a result of their own deeply warped sense of reality and of their overly lofty expectations of things not being met, but we are talking about a lot more people than than.

      Calling depression a “normal reaction” doesn’t move anything forward in this conversation. Indeed, calling cancer a normal reaction to being irradiated should not cause us to feel less concern if we are indeed irradiated. Something being “normal” does not mean it has any less reality, importance or impact in relation to the individual experiencing it.

    • Emmanuel Marin

      This is the most idiotic thing I have ever read. Quit trying to make depression about politics. People do not need to say their are depressed to be depressed. Toxic society I dont know what you mean by that but the fact that even animals have depression yet they do not belong in a society.Its our a combination of genetics and our upbringing that causes depression.These natural disasters,terrorist attacks can cause depression.Also their is no cure for depression . Instead of be ignorant why not actually try to read a bout instead of relying on nonsense.

    • j2saret

      You need to change your cognomen to twofer. Not only are you the sort of psychopath that stand your ground laws were created to address, you are now the self prescribed cure for my friend’s depression. Kudos!

    • Ikiniki

      Is diabetes a luxury? Or cancer or MS? Depression is a disease like many others. It has nothing to do with the state of the world or living in society. It has everything to do with a brain that is not functioning well. It can be inheritable and is often triggered by trauma. A person with a normal brain may have a period of sadness after a loss but a depressive will spin down into the depths of depair that they can’t come out of without resetting that brain. I am a depressive with a family history of 3 suicides that I know of. Basically, I’m a person who is happy with my life but if stressed by allergens and whatnot I can’t stop crying. This has gone on for years and is only relieved by medications.

    • pulse

      Sorry Uncle Al, but don’t quit your day job. You are not a psychologist and don’t know depression. It is no “luxury.” Do you truly believe horrible events like war do not cause depression? People not saying they’re depressed does not mean they aren’t depressed.

      For shame, Al. For shame.

      • Jim Gentile

        Uncle Al doesn’t seem to have any unexpressed thoughts, especially when he is uninformed.

  • Magic Mushrooms

    I’ve been telling my potential users this for years. Maybe one day the laws will be more favorable for me.

    • Courtney Schumacher

      Pot got a green card. Mushrooms are coming.

    • Thomas Eaton

      I pray you are correct!!
      Happy trails

  • Santino Corleone

    I had such experiences induced by meditation and although they definitively had strong anti depressive effects, they also triggered a hypomanic state. I think it is very difficult to give good recommendation and to explain what is happening and why this works. If I was ‘only’ depressive, then meditation would be my holy grail as I can enter very deep states very fast. These states can be described as deep relaxation, euphoric feelings, physical reactions like an erection, out of body feeling and other. But it is as i I get too much energy from meditation very fast. So if I would meditate now and had a great session with deep relaxation, then tomorrow I would wake up earlier in the morning and I would be either more irritable or anxious, sometimes euphoric. From experience I can say that medication can trigger hypomania and maybe it could provoke mania in BPD I patients. Now, some people would argue that happens in meditation is good but I dont think so. I think you need to get to know your body be careful with things like meditation and drugs with you react so sensible…

  • Thomas Eaton

    I dont any more studies to tel me what I already know.
    Shrooms work for almost everyone.
    Why ban them for those who can benefit from them?
    The overly PC crowd again sticking its nose into your business and telling you they know better than you how you should live and what you are ” allowed” to use for medicine.
    PC is a danger to our country and earth as a whole.
    BTW, you can take shrooms now, without the ” permission” of those who want to control you anyway.
    Fare Thee Well fellow traveler.
    To quote Mickey ” The road you are about to travel will not be a familiar one”
    Best line ever!!!


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