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Exploring the relationship between anxiety and depression
Exploring the relationship between anxiety and depression

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5 Psychedelics for the treatment of anxiety and depression?

We now turn to a controversial treatment for mood disorders, interest in which has recently been revived following some small-scale trials. You may be wondering how it is even possible to consider the use of psychedelic (‘mind-altering’) drugs for the treatment of anxiety or depression. It may perhaps come as a surprise to you that prior to their prohibition in the late 1960s, drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) were actually used in the treatment of mood disorders and fairly extensively researched across a range of psychiatric conditions in the 1950s and 1960s (Rucker et al., 2016). While these substances were found not to be useful for psychotic disorders, those 'suffering from so-called "neurotic" disorders, characterized by constrained, entrenched and often negative patterns of thought, feeling and behaviour, often reported new insights [and transformative states of mind] under the influence of psychedelics when taken in therapeutically supportive settings […] that allegedly conferred long-lasting beneficial change' (Rucker et al. 2016). The recent upsurge in interest in these compounds has focused attention once again on their mechanism of action and the nature of the therapeutic outcome. Activity 1 explores a recent small-scale ‘feasibility’ study into the use of psilocybin for the treatment of depression. This study was funded by the UK’s Medical Research Council, and published in the Lancet Psychiatry in 2016.

Activity 1 Psychedelics for the treatment of depression?

Timing: Allow 60 minutes

Read the press release and commentary provided below (you can access these via the associated links) and note down your responses to the questions that follow. The full open access article has also been provided for reference. You are not required to read the full article, but may do so if you wish. Please note that there is no discussion associated with this activity. The questions posed, however, will help you to structure your thoughts as you reflect on the issues raised in the resources you engage with as part of this activity. You might find it useful to take notes and write down your answers to individual questions.

Magic mushroom compound for the treatment of depression?

Wighton, K. (2016) Magic mushroom compound tested for treatment-resistant depression [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , Imperial College London, Press Release. [Press Release]

Cowen, P. (2016) ‘Altered states: psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression’, Lancet Psychiatry, vol. 3, no. 7, pp. 592-3. [Commentary]

Carhart -Harris, R.L., Bolstridge, M., Rucker, J., Day, C.M., Erritzow, D., Kaelen, M., Bloomfield, M., Rickard, J.A., Forbes, B., Feilding, A., Taylor, D., Piling, S., Curran, V.H. and Nutt, D.J. (2016) ‘Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: an open-label feasibility study’, Lancet Psychiatry, vol. 2, no. 7, pp. 619-27. [Main Article]

  1. What type of research was this?

  2. What is the rationale for treating depression using psilocybin?

  3. What did the research involve?

  4. What were the main findings of the study?

  5. How did the researchers interpret their results?

  6. What can you conclude from this study?

  7. Are there any strengths or limitations to the research?

  8. Does the study have any ethical or legal implications?

  9. Do you think there are any long-term consequences to using psilocybin for mood disorders?

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