Can a drug trip relieve depression? Studies with psilocybin, a molecule from "magic mushrooms", raise hope for a new form of therapy. It works very differently from the usual treatments.
He had been treated psychotherapeutically for almost 15 years and took medication for about ten years - but the depression continued to keep the young man firmly in its grip. He feared he would never feel happiness or joy again. An experimental treatment changed that abruptly. "It was like a door had opened for me. I started seeing the same situations in a new light," he says in the Johns Hopkins Media Team YouTube video. He was one of 24 subjects enrolled in a Phase II clinical trial at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in B altimore. In it, a team led by Roland Griffiths tested whether the intoxicant psilocybin could relieve depression. The treatment significantly improved the condition of 17 test persons, in 13 of them even so much that the researchers no longer classified them as depressed four weeks later.
Psilocybin occurs naturally in mushrooms of the bald head group - colloquially known as "magic mushrooms" because of their intoxicating effects. Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica probably used them more than 2000 years ago. In some regions, a real cult developed around them - the Aztecs called representatives of the species Psilocybe mexicana "god mushrooms" ("teōnanacatl" in their Nahuatl language) and consumed them for ritual purposes. However, the scientific investigation of the fungi did not begin until 1958. At that time, the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann isolated psilocybin and described the substance. At the same time, professionals were already experimenting with LSD, another psychedelic discovered by Hofmann. Such active substances induce states of intoxication that temporarily blur the boundary between the self and the environment. These "trips" often lead to illusions and hallucinations. In the 1950s and 1960s, psychiatrists tested such drugs on thousands of people with mental illnesses.
These early experiments already indicated that the substances could be therapeutically effective…