Balance May 2018 - 42


with moderate-to-severe depression
were given two doses a week apart, with
the support of a psychotherapist. A
week after the second dose, all of them
displayed fewer symptoms of depression.
Three months after the second dose,
42 per cent no longer met the medical
definition of depression.
Side effects included headaches, mild
nausea, initial worries over taking the
drug, and some confusion while the
psilocybin was taking effect. The team at
ICL could not have hoped for such positive
feedback. In 2017, Robin and his team,
after a similar trial, showed psilocybin
reduces activity in the amygdala, the
area of the brain which controls anxiety.


So, can magic mushrooms cure
depression? Robin's study only worked
with 12 patients in the first trial, and 14 in
the second, and didn't use a control group.
They were taking baby steps towards
further psilocybin research, and were at
pains to point out no-one should ever selfmedicate with magic mushrooms - or any
psychedelic substance - without a trained
psychotherapist present.
Further research may prove difficult,
due to the fact Psilocybin is a Class A drug
- and therefore illegal to possess - and
the UK government currently considers

particular psychedelic drugs psilocybin
it to have zero medicinal value. It took
and LSD. Anecdotal evidence from
the UCL team the best part of three years
crowdsourced experiments online, run
to get a licence from the Home Office to
by scientists and experts who set rules
undertake the first trial and because time
for volunteers, suggests microdosing
is money in science, "it cost £1,500 to dose
LSD and the psilocybin in magic
each subject. In a sane world, it might
mushrooms may improve cognition and
cost £30," said Dr David Nutt, director of
help alleviate depression.
neuropsychopharmacology at UCL, who
Author Michael Pollan, whose food
also worked on the trial.
writing delivered the "eat food,
David is a key player in the
not too much, mostly plants"
changing attitude towards
magic mushrooms. He is
Possessing magic mantra, took psilocybin and
mushrooms in
other psychedelic compounds
also ex-head of the Advisory
the UK can result
while researching his new
Council on the Misuse of
in seven years
book, How To Change Your
Drugs, the governmental
in jail, or an
Mind (Allen Lane/Penguin,
department which regulates
unlimited fine
17 May), and also spoke with
the Misuse of Illegal Drugs Act.
cancer patients given psychedelics
In 2009 he was sacked as ACMD
in US trials. Just like their UK counterpart,
chief by then Home Secretary Alan Johnson
mostly positive results in terms of tackling
for publicly criticising the government's
anxiety were posted.
toughening stance on cannabis.
David published papers that went
against official guidelines concerning
illegal drugs, and was co-author of a study
Sadly for advocates, it also seems to
in 2010 that ranked the harm caused
increase anxiety in those who are already
to individuals and society by 20 illegal
anxious. Carhart-Harris and others point
drugs. The worst offender was alcohol,
out taking psychedelics in the right place
followed by heroin and crack cocaine.
and frame of mind - 'set and setting', in
At the bottom? Magic mushrooms. With
their parlance - is as crucial as taking the
ecstasy taking 16th place, Nutt was easily
right dose. Essentially, your microdose of
characterised by tabloids as living up
magic mushrooms could prove useless if
to his surname, and the opportunity to
you scarf them down on a hangover while
conduct further research was lost.
fretting about being late for work.

Central Americans
were using psilocybin
mushrooms before
Europeans landed on
the New World's
shores; the fantastical
fungi grow well in
subtropical and
tropical environments

Yet that is changing. Let's say psilocybin
research expands and drugs become hypereffective in treating depression on a global
level. That is no great leap of imagination,
given the ICL research.  A much grander
'What if?' might be whether psilocybin
could actually help us all with our
wellbeing, not just those diagnosed with
mental health issues. Others would say it's
coming, if you consider current trends.
Microdosing, taking tiny amounts of
drugs and other compounds to improve
brain function, is on the increase, in

May 2018 BA LA N CE

More scientific research is needed,
which requires backers with open minds
and open wallets, and governments who
are willing to risk the fact that for some,
research into illegal psychedelics is close
to letting the genie out of the bottle.
"It's frustrating," Robin said at the end
of 2017. "Funders seem risk-averse and
only see reputational hazards. However,
I believe the breakthrough will come.
Unless there's a curveball, it's inevitable
psilocybin will be licensed as an
anxiety treatment." Magic mushrooms
for breakfast? It's on the menu. B



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Balance May 2018

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