Mind-altering medicine: psilocybin therapy to combat depression

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Therapy

Compass Pathways is using synthesised psilocybin –an active ingredient in magic mushrooms – to develop therapies for treatment-resistant depression

The UK-based firm is conducting clinical trials of the psychoactive compound to respond to unmet medical need for patients who have previously failed anti-depressant drug or therapy trials.

Spokesperson Tracy Cheung said psilocybin can boost patients’ sense of agency – the feeling of control over actions and their consequences – and provide long-lasting relief.

“There is an emerging class of antidepressants that provide rapid (hours to days) relief of depressive symptoms that is sustained for weeks and months. Two of these include esketamine and rapastinel,” ​said Cheung.

“Psilocybin is unique because of its safety profile and its ability to increase the patient’s sense of agency,” ​she added.

Psychedelic Science Org UK co-founder David Nutt also told us patients can experience relief for extended periods.

“It is just a single dose, but this can give long-lasting benefits – often for months,” ​he said.

Psilocybin extraction

Cheung told us natural psilocybin extraction is difficult and expensive to produce to cGMP standards.

“Given the urgent unmet need, Compass has chosen to synthesize psilocybin to expedite research and regulatory approval to bring this treatment to patients without unnecessary delays,” ​she said.

“We plan to extend research into extracts at a later stage to compare the benefits,” ​she added.

The firm said the exact mode of administration and drug-device or drug-therapy combinations are still being tested.

“Once established, Compass plans to make this technology available through licensing,” ​said Cheung.

Therapy in action

Nutt told us there is no risk of psilocybin abuse, as it has anti-addiction properties, and patients can quickly resume activities of daily living following treatment.

“The treatment lasts just a few hours, so afterwards they ​[the patients] are perfectly fine to continue life as before without any interference,” ​he said.

According to Compass, the psychoactive compound could also be used to develop therapeutic targets.

In addition to making this treatment available to patients with urgent needs, this research could potentially help identify new therapeutic targets for treatment-resistant depression,” ​said Cheung.

‘Meaningful experience’

This is the not the first time psilocybin has been the subject of clinical trials to treat depression.

Cheung told us investigational therapies to treat psychological distress have prompted emotional responses​ in trial patients.

“Patients in clinical trials of psilocybin for psychological distress associated with cancer diagnosis, consistently rated psilocybin treatment experience as one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives, comparable to marriage and childbirth,” ​she said.

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