Psilocybin vs SSRIs for Depression

Psilocybin vs SSRI for Depression - GCI Content Hub - Global Cannabis Intelligence

There is no doubt that psychedelic compounds hold the key to a slew of breakthroughs for many treatment-resistant conditions.

Ketamine-assisted therapy (albeit not strictly a psychedelic, but rather a substance that can create similar psychedelic effects, whilst also benefiting from being able to be prescribed off-label in certain countries, due to its less prohibitive ranking as a controlled substance) has already been spoken about as ‘the biggest breakthrough in mental health for 50 years’, and we’re only really scratching the surface of mental health treatment using this compound.

Whilst modern medicines and modes of therapy help remediate symptoms for many patients, there is a silent majority (forgive the Nixonism!) – especially with regard to their mental health – who are reliant on pharmaceuticals and/or talk therapies that have sub-optimal outcomes.

The psychedelic renaissance we now find ourselves in gives hope to people experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD – amongst other conditions – insofar as there are other therapeutic avenues that are being explored to enhance quality of life.

With research breakthroughs occurring all over the world, today it will be a study from the amazing folks down at Imperial College London’s Centre for Psychedelic Research that we will be focusing on.

Psilocybin Study at Imperial College London

The research looked to examine psilocybin, the predominant psychedelic constituent found in ‘magic mushrooms’, and the therapeutic effects it has on the brain.

In doing so, the study examined brain scans from study participants to better ascertain the reported reduction in measures of depression amongst those having psilocybin therapy, although quite how these treatments effect the brain still remains somewhat unclear.

“Psilocybin therapy shows antidepressant potential, but its therapeutic actions are not well understood” the study’s authors outline.

Study Methodology and Results

The first trial was open-label with all study participants (those with treatment-resistant depression) receiving “orally administered psilocybin (10 mg and 25 mg, 7 d apart)”.

The second – focused on more generalized depression – was configured as a double-blind Phase II randomized controlled trial (RCT), comparing psilocybin therapy with a specific selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medicine, Escitalopram.

Ahead of the trials, study participants received talk therapy and brain scans, used to compare against post-psilocybin therapy outcomes.

Both trials used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in their analysis of the results; research outcomes that will be pleasing to many mental health and psychedelic advocates around the world.

“In both trials, the antidepressant response to psilocybin was rapid, sustained and correlated with decreases in fMRI brain network modularity, implying that psilocybin’s antidepressant action may depend on a global increase in brain network integration” study authors declared.

By comparison, when analysing the results from those using the SSRI, Escitalopram, it was observed that the antidepressant response was indeed “milder and no changes in brain network organization were observed”.

Moreover, when looking at the brain changes that correlate to antidepressant effects, both studies “suggest an antidepressant mechanism for psilocybin therapy: global increases in brain network integration”.

Of course, follow-up data for the participants will continue to be analysed, to try and ascertain the longevity of the psilocybin therapy’s effect.

However, much can already be inferred from the brain scans taken one day after treatment, that indicate positive outcomes will be present at least six months following the study.

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