Depression is a debilitating mental health condition which affects around half a million individuals in Scotland. Patients suffering from depression often experience emotional sadness and an inability to enjoy everyday activities.

Traditional treatments such as SSRI antidepressants and psychotherapy are successful for a proportion of patients, although fail to work for others, resulting in patients experiencing treatment resistant depression. Following the discovery of LSD by Swiss psychiatrist Albert Hoffman, the 1950’s and 1960’s found psychedelic substances promising for the treatment of depression, addiction and end of life cancer-related anxiety.

The current revival in psychedelic research has brought groundbreaking studies to public attention, investigating serotonergic psychedelics such as psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. Initial findings from the team at Imperial College London’s Centre for psychedelic research, where “Psilodep 1” (psilocybin for depression) was carried out, found psilocybin to be safe and tolerable in a clinically supervised setting for the small sample of patients studied. All participants reported a reduction in depressive symptoms 1-week post treatment, and several of the 20 patients reported a reduction in depression at 6 months following a single dose of psilocybin.

Findings were further enhanced by the landmark psilocybin and LSD functional MRI study, revealing reductions in brain mechanisms responsible for rumination, a common symptom of depression. The positive findings led to further investigation, resulting in “Psilodep 2”, which compared the SSRI escitalopram to psilocybin, using a larger sample of 59 patients and a more robust clinical design compared to Psilodep1.

Outcomes support initial findings from Psilodep 1, revealing the anti-depressant effects of psilocybin 6 weeks post treatment. Escitalopram was found to be as effective in the treatment of depression as psilocybin, although further research is needed to investigate the therapeutic outcomes beyond 6-weeks, which could reveal a more favourable outcome for either psilocybin or escitalopram.

Universities around the world are launching psychedelic research centers to investigate the therapeutic effects of psychedelics. Despite depression posing a major health challenge in Scotland, trials exploring psychedelic therapy are yet to be conducted. The launch of the Scottish Psychedelic Working Group provides hope for the current unmet need for patients suffering from depression.