Is the pharmacology world failing people with mental health disorders?
In a landmark decision Canada has allowed psilocybin treatment for end of life cancer care in four patients. This is the first medical approval in Canada since the 1970’s. A news release from TheraPsil, an organisation that is working for patients to gain access to psilocybin therapy, supported patients with their applications to seek ministerial approval. Cancer patients who have used psilocybin have reported being able to live free from fear and anxiety for the first time since being giving their diagnosis.
More and more people are turning to plant medicine, aka psychedelics, to heal mental health issues like anxiety, depression and trauma. Microdosing psychedelics (taking barely perceptible amounts) has been happening since the 1980’s but now we are hearing about it more and more; and it’s not just ‘hippies’ or ‘dropouts’. Many of these people are professionals with responsibilities and families who are choosing psychedelics over antidepressants. Microdosing psilocybin has been shown to increase creativity, productivity and mood enhancement. Microdosers have described being in ‘flow states’; a blissful state of getting large amounts of work done with less procrastination and more concentration.
When people have tried varying types of anti-depressants, with constant increase in dosage, they can begin to feel hopeless when there is no improvement. As well as this people have found that they have had to increase the dosage gradually which indicates that the anti-depressant is masking the underlying causes rather than healing the root of the issue.
Many people are turning to something that is currently illegal in the UK in a desperate attempt to help themselves. With the promise of having their mood uplifted by a natural plant medicine that, by all accounts, is harmless, non addictive and with no known side effects it begs the question why wouldn’t you? Using psychedelics as a medicine has helped people to achieve something that pharma medication has never achieved. The plants lift the blanket numbness and lethargy that depression and anxiety can bring and allow people to continue with work and family life.
Psychedelics such as psilocybin remain a schedule 1 Drug under the UN Convention and Class A under the Misuse of Drugs Act in the UK. In the UK, this currently means only researchers with a licence from the Home Office are able to obtain and test substances, and anyone obtaining substances for micro-dosing without a licence could face prosecution. Due to psychedelics being illegal there is certainly some fear and a sense of shame around what people are doing. People might source their psilocybin from other countries where it is legal to sell truffles or spores for growing psilocybin mushrooms. Then there’s an added fear of the package arriving and being tracked. Giving your address to the source means a lack of anonymity. Surely, we should not be made criminals for taking responsibility for our own mental health and wellbeing?
Microdosing has been reported as early as the 16th century; low doses of psilocybin, ‘teonanacatl’ or sacred mushroom have been written about. Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan friar during the period of the Spanish conquest of the Americas (1519–1521), reported that, ‘teonanacatl were … medicinal for fevers and for rheumatism. Only two or three need to be eaten. Those who eat them see visions and feel a faintness of the heart. And they provoke lust to those who eat a number, or even a few, of them’. Medicine from Mother Nature has dated back thousands of years.
At the end of 2019, the Usona Institute received breakthrough therapy status for psilocybin as a treatment for major depressive disorder by the FDA. This only happens with a drug when preliminary evidence suggests the drug may be an enormous improvement over existing therapy.
Clinical trials with Usona have been approved for 80 participants with major depressive disorder which affects more than 17 million people in the US and according to the World Health Organisation 300 million people around the globe. The phase 2 trials are expected to be completed by 2021. Usona are currently recruiting further participants. Rick Doblin, Director and founder of MAPS predicts that psilocybin will be made legal for psychotherapists to work with clients struggling with depression and other mental health issues.
The Beckley Foundation have also conducted successful trials for treating treatment resistant depression in patients who had had depression for up to 18 years of their lives. Though this was a small trial of 20 participants, results showed that the positive effects of psilocybin could be felt for up to 5 weeks after the trial, and results were still showing positive at 3 and 6 months. Patients were given support before, during and after their trials. These patients were placed in an Fmri scanner and shown photographs of faces displaying various emotions. The amygdala; the area in the brain associated with emotions was showing as active. This shows that when using psilocybin we are better able to allow emotions to surface and process them.
Remember when you were a child and everything was brand new and wonderous? As we become mature we tend to get stuck in our ways or rigid patterns of thinking and being. We no longer see the world with brand new eyes, particularly when we are stuck in depressive thought patterns.
Psilocybin stimulates the serotonin receptors in the brain which allows better communication between the brain networks. It has also been hypothesised that psilocybin creates neurogenesis; growth of new brain cells. This is particularly important for treatment of depression. People who suffer from depression may have fewer cells in their hippocampus; the brain area connected with memory and learning. Psilocybin allows us to generate free and creative thinking and this is something that we struggle with when we are depressed.
There is still much research to do on the use use of psilocybin and depression but, so far, things are looking hopeful. And when you are stuck in treatment resistant depression hope is the one thing that you need. For further information or to take part in clinical trials please see:
Participate in a trial
Strict criteria apply for participating in our trials We receive a high volume of applications - please only contact us…
Self-blinding microdosing study
We have closed phase 1 of the study, the data collected so far will be published in a scientific journal Q3 of 2020…
Get Involved - The Beckley Foundation
Participate in research Building on the research carried out by the Beckley/Imperial Psychedelic Research Programme…