Psychedelic treatment, provided in combination with supporting psychotherapy, was found to produce “rapid and large reductions” in symptoms of major depression in a study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Findings from the study were published in JAMA Psychiatry.
Researchers recruited 24 patients with a documented long-term history of depression, most of whom had experienced persistent symptoms for the previous two years. Participants tapered off antidepressants with the help of their personal physician before engaging in the experimental treatment. Of the 24 patients, 13 received psilocybin treatment immediately after recruitment and preparation; the remaining 11 went through the same steps after an 8-week delay.
All patients were provided with two doses of psilocybin under the guidance of two clinical monitors. Doses were given two weeks apart, with each treatment session lasting five hours.
Patients’ symptoms were assessed on the GRID-Hamilton Depression Rating Scale at enrollment, and at one and four weeks after treatment. At the outset, patients’ depression levels averaged a score of 23 (on a 24-point scale), indicating severe depression. At one and four weeks post-treatment, patients registered an average score of 8, the lowest number in the “mild depression” range of the scale. Overall, two-thirds of patients reported a reduction of more than 50% in depression symptoms after one week and 71% after four weeks. Also at the four-weeks-post-treatment mark, more than half of patients were considered in remission.
“The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” says Alan Davis, PhD, adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a news release. “Because most other depression treatments take weeks or months to work and may have undesirable effects, this could be a game changer if these findings hold up in future ‘gold-standard’ placebo-controlled clinical trials.”
The study’s researchers plan to follow the participants for a year to track the long-term antidepressant effects of the treatment.