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Description: It is not a big secret so you have likely heard or read references to findings that antidepressant medications do not work for somewhere around 30% of those to whom they are prescribed and that most of those for whom they DO work will find at some point that they no longer work, and a different anti-depressant must be found. Typical antidepressant work by adjusting the mount of serotonin active in our mood management brain areas but saying that depression is due to low levels of serotonin is not sufficient as serotonin levels are adjusted almost immediately following the beginning of an antidepressant treatment regime while it takes days or even a week or longer before positive changes can be felt and seen in the experienced depressive symptoms. Now, What if it were possible to take a medication only two or three times to experience a significant reduction or perhaps even a complete lifting of your depressive symptoms? Now add to your thoughts on this the fact that the drug in question is psychedelic – in the form of magic mushrooms. Oh and one more thing – might it be possible to produce a magic mushroom related medication that has the desired two or three dose impact on depression but without the psychedelic “trip”? Lots to thinks about! Have a read through the linked article which walks through these questions and as you do pay particular attention to the science that is being done and that needs to be done before we can make properly informed regulatory and ethical decisions about magic mushrooms and depression.

Source: Taking the Magic Out of Magic Mushrooms, Dana G. Smith, The New York Times

Date: July 17, 2022

Image by sergewitokmakov from Pixabay

Article Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/15/opinion/hallucinations-psychedelics-depression.html

So, are magic mushrooms on your maybe list as a depression treatment? I think one of the most difficult questions concerns the importance of the individual subjective experiences associated with a magic mushroom “trip” or treatment. Certainly it seems to make sense that such large impacts on depression might require a rather impactful subjective experience. This opens up the fascinating question of whether plasticity, as it is discussed in the article, can or does involve impactful psychological experiences or whether the plasticity dial in targeted brain regions could simply be tweaked up by non-psychedelic magic mushroom extracted molecules. The implications for how we think about plasticity are very interesting. Infancy and childhood are times when we humans experience massively higher levels of brain plasticity compared to adulthood. Does it seem intriguing to refer to childhood as a mind-blowing experience? Why not?

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are some of the shortcomings associated with standard drug treatment for depression?
  2. What have studies and individual reports of the use of magic mushrooms to treat depression been suggesting?
  3. What do you make of the debates about whether a non-psychedelic magic mushroom based depression treatment will have the same impact of a full magic mushroom experience and what of the role of the subjective “trip” expereince?

References (Read Further):

Agin-Liebes, G. I., Malone, T., Yalch, M. M., Mennenga, S. E., Ponté, K. L., Guss, J., … & Ross, S. (2020). Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for psychiatric and existential distress in patients with life-threatening cancer. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 34(2), 155-166. Link

Carhart-Harris, R., Giribaldi, B., Watts, R., Baker-Jones, M., Murphy-Beiner, A., Murphy, R., … & Nutt, D. J. (2021). Trial of psilocybin versus escitalopram for depression. New England Journal of Medicine, 384(15), 1402-1411. Link

Mitchell, J. M., Bogenschutz, M., Lilienstein, A., Harrison, C., Kleiman, S., Parker-Guilbert, K., … & Doblin, R. (2021). MDMA-assisted therapy for severe PTSD: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 3 study. Nature Medicine, 27(6), 1025-1033. Link

Olson, D. E. (2020). The subjective effects of psychedelics may not be necessary for their enduring therapeutic effects. ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science, 4(2), 563-567. Link

Cameron, L. P., Tombari, R. J., Lu, J., Pell, A. J., Hurley, Z. Q., Ehinger, Y., … & Olson, D. E. (2021). A non-hallucinogenic psychedelic analogue with therapeutic potential. Nature, 589(7842), 474-479. Link

Griffiths, R. R., Richards, W. A., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2006). Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology, 187(3), 268-283. Link

Roseman, L., Nutt, D. J., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2018). Quality of acute psychedelic experience predicts therapeutic efficacy of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. Frontiers in pharmacology, 8, 974. Link

Davis, A. K., Barrett, F. S., May, D. G., Cosimano, M. P., Sepeda, N. D., Johnson, M. W., … & Griffiths, R. R. (2021). Effects of psilocybin-assisted therapy on major depressive disorder: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA psychiatry, 78(5), 481-489. Link

Hillhouse, T. M., & Porter, J. H. (2015). A brief history of the development of antidepressant drugs: from monoamines to glutamate. Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology, 23(1), 1. Link

Davidson, R. J., & Lutz, A. (2008). Buddha’s brain: Neuroplasticity and meditation [in the spotlight]. IEEE signal processing magazine, 25(1), 176-174. Link