Psilocybin — the psychoactive compound in a group of mushrooms that cause hallucinations — may help patients with depression who are unresponsive to traditional depression treatments.

Nineteen of 20 patients who received psilocybin showed an improvement in their symptoms for up to 5 weeks after treatment.

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“We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments,” said study leader Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial.

“Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary ‘kick-start’ they need to break out of their depressive states, and these imaging results do tentatively support a ‘reset’ analogy,” Carhart-Harris said. “Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy.”

Larger studies are needed to see if this positive effect can be reproduced in more patients, said study senior author David Nutt.

A trial scheduled to start early in 2018 will test the psychedelic drug against a leading antidepressant.


Carhart-Harris RL, Roseman L, Bolstridge M, et al. Psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression: fMRI-measured brain mechanisms [published online October 17, 2017]. Scientific Reports. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-13282-7