(Part three of a four-part series)
Despite ongoing legal setbacks, psychedelics research has reemerged and it is proving that psilocybin reduces brain connections within the usual networks while amplifying links between less connected areas.
Alterations on sustained networks seem to correlate with a reduction of depression symptoms. In the first part of 2021, two prestigious institutions began studying psilocybin therapy for depression. One compared psilocybin with traditional antidepressants (SSRI), while the other focused on psilocybin treatment for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
While the comparison study “did not show a significant difference in antidepressant effects between psilocybin and escitalopram,” it did bring up interesting findings and called for “larger and longer trials” comparing psilocybin with traditional antidepressants.
Researcher Tomasso Barba has picked up the torch. His recent study found that psilocybin “is superior in reducing rumination and chronic suppression of negative emotions compared to escitalopram,” two conditions often associated with major depressive disorders.
The other 2021 trial showed positive results: nearly three-quarters of the patients in the psilocybin group reported feeling significantly better four weeks after the session, while a 50% of significant remission of other depressive symptoms was reported.
In 2022, psilocybin research is focusing on mental health conditions with a focus on headaches, ranging from mild to incapacitating.
In the case of cluster headaches for which no specific pharmaceuticals have been discovered and those that do exist are not effective or consistent for everyone.
Yale University has begun psilocybin studies for this type of head pain. PI Dr. Emmanuelle Schindler found past reports on the efficacy of psychedelics compared to conventional treatment in a considerably large study, and that “cluster headache sufferers have been using psychedelics to treat their condition for over 20 years” and have “uncovered a lot of anecdotal evidence” of their therapeutic potential.
Among other measurements, the trial will compare the effects of a placebo, a high dose and a low dose of psilocybin on the frequency, length or intensity of attacks, given past research showing that almost 50% of participants experienced partial or complete relief from headaches by taking “subhallucinogenic” – or very low doses of psilocybin.
Dr. Schindler is also conducting two additional headache studies at Yale on migraines and post-concussive headaches.
Migraines affect more than 10% of the world’s population and according to Schindler are “the primary reason for disability in people under 50 worldwide.” The new migraine study will investigate the effects of repeated doses of psilocybin compared to a single dose “to see whether this pulse method of dosing might have a longer therapeutic effect.”
On the other hand, the post-traumatic headaches study will administer a placebo, a low or high dose of psilocybin on two days spaced two weeks apart and evaluate headache frequency, intensity and related symptoms.
Another interesting research stands within the addictions world. Matthew Johnson, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins is investigating whether magic mushrooms help in smoking cessation.
”People have higher mental versatility following psilocybin. That boost in openness may be a long-term modification that can help in conquering addiction,” according to Johnson.
In direct relation to this topic is NYU Langone’s largest-ever clinical trial assessing psilocybin’s efficacy to treat alcohol use disorder. Results seem promising, showing heavy drinking days decreased by more than 80% in those who had taken the psychedelic.
Yet psilocybin’s potential therapeutic uses might not stop there. Scientists at King’s College London and at three U.S. research centers supported by Compass Pathways (NASDAQ: CMPS) are set to examine whether the substance can help alleviate symptoms such as low moods and obsessive-compulsive thinking for the treatment of anorexia nervosa, the psychiatric disorder holding the highest mortality rate and for which no pharmaceutical treatments exists to date.
Photo courtesy of Susie Hedberg and C4289N on Shutterstock.