University In Houston Testing Psilocybin For Treatment-Resistant Depression

While psilocybin is a controlled Schedule I substance, the FDA is allowing the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston to test it as part of a global Phase II clinical trial.
University In Houston Testing Psilocybin For Treatment-Resistant Depression
Psilocybe mexicana/ Wikimedia Commons

On the heels of its decriminalization in a handful of US cities, psilocybin is being explored by the scientific establishment for evidence of therapeutic effectiveness. Researchers at the University of Texas Science Health Center in Houston (UTHealth) have announced that they are studying psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression.

The study is inspired by past scientific investigations that suggest that psilocybin works to create new mental circuitry. One 2012 study concluded that the substance can enable “a state of unconstrained cognition.” Another study conducted at Johns Hopkins University and published in 2016 found a link between psilocybin use and decreases in depression and anxiety.

“It is a medication that can change or alter perceptions, cognition, thinking, and how minds see the environment,” Sudhakar Selvaraj, MD, PhD, assistant professor at UTHealth, said in a statement. “This therapy, if it works, could help at least a portion of people get relief from their depression and get back to day-to-day life.”

The UTHealth study will rely on a double-blind method, meaning neither patients nor study physicians will know what dosage of psilocybin is taken by study participants. After ingesting 25, ten, or one milligrams of psilocybin, patients will hang out in a comfortable treatment room for eight hours, supervised by therapists.

Before and after they trip, participants will fill out questionnaires regarding their symptoms of depression. They’ll record their mental state again one, three, six, nine, and 12 weeks later.

Sound nice? If you’re between the ages of 18 and 55 and have treatment-resistant depression, you can still apply to be in the study.

Psilocybin and Mental Health

It is thought that psilocybin affects depression by the interaction between a chemical produced by the body upon its ingestion, called psilocin, and the body’s serotonin system.

In recent months, other breakthroughs have taken place in the realm of psilocybin. Last week, Miami University researchers announced that they have discovered a method of producing the compound that relies not on the cultivation of mushrooms, but via splicing their DNA into the E. coli bacteria.

Last year, a team at Johns Hopkins University concluded that mushrooms could actually aid people in quitting cigarettes. That educational institution, led by psychopharmacologist Roland R. Griffiths, has conducted psychedelics research since 2000 and was the first research group to be approved by the US federal government to conduct such tests. Griffith holds that psychedelics can accomplish mental shifts in one session that years of counseling and pharmaceuticals cannot achieve.

The school has since proven to be one of the leaders in the United States when it comes to its commitment to investigating the beneficial effects of hallucinogens. Last month, Johns Hopkins announced the formation of its Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, which will be headed up by Griffiths and which administrators say will prioritize research on how psilocybin affects our bodies and minds.

Happily, these findings are arriving around the same time as a nascent movement to widen access to consciousness-expanding substances. Oakland and Denver both decriminalized magic mushrooms earlier this year, though neither city has gone so far as to legalize their sale.

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