Exclusive: ‘People on antidepressants long-term say they feel blunted, with psychedelic therapy it’s the opposite, they talk about an emotional release, a reconnection’
Hallucination-inducing drugs like magic mushrooms could be about to break big pharma’s stranglehold on the hugely lucrative market for antidepressants, according to the head of the world’s first centre for psychedelic research.
Antidepressant prescriptions have doubled in England in a decade with around seven million adults taking the drugs, and the global market is predicted to be worth $15.9bn (£12.5bn) by 2023.
At Imperial College London, Professor Robin Carhart-Harris is leading one of the first trials to test how therapy using psilocybin mushrooms, which are currently banned in the UK, compares to leading antidepressants.
While he won’t prejudge the results of the study, he says participants describe a cathartic emotional “release” with psilocybin therapy – the polar opposite of antidepressants, which patients complain leave their emotions, whether positive or negative, “blunted”.
It is the first of many studies planned under the banner of the new Centre for Psychedelic Research at London’s Imperial College.
A large empty floor of the university’s Hammersmith campus will house a bank of treatment rooms that make it the UK’s first psychedelic therapy research clinic, and a “prototype and inspiration” for licensed psychedelic medicine clinics of the future.
Trials of psilocybin in treating eating disorders, and a study of the effects of powerful hallucinogenic DMT on the brain, are already planned following Imperial’s commitment to the centre.
But it is the work on depression where research is most advanced, and most promising.
On the current trial, around 60 participants with moderate to severe depression will receive psilocybin treatment accompanied by a therapy session with a clinical psychologist.
The participants will also be randomly allocated to receive either a placebo or the drug escitalopram, with neither researchers or patients knowing who is in each group.