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Psilocybin drugs derived from magic mushrooms might treat severe depression

By Calliope, Apr 8, 2013 | | |
  1. Calliope
    Drugs derived from magic mushrooms could help treat people with severe depression. Scientists believe the chemical psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, can turn down parts of the brain that are overactive in severely depressive patients. The drug appears to stop patients dwelling on themselves and their own perceived inadequacies.

    However, a bid by British scientists to carry out trials of psilocybin on patients in order to assess its full medical potential has been blocked by red tape relating to Britain's strict drugs laws. Professor David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, will tell a conference today that because magic mushrooms are rated as a class-A drug, their active chemical ingredient cannot be manufactured unless a special licence is granted.

    "We haven't started the study because finding companies that could manufacture the drug and who are prepared to go through the regulatory hoops to get the licence is proving very difficult," said Nutt. "The whole field is so bedevilled by primitive old-fashioned attitudes. Even if you have a good idea, you may never get it into the clinic, it seems."

    Research by Nutt has found that psilocybin switches off part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. It was known that this area is overactive in individuals suffering from depression. In his tests on healthy individuals, it was found that psilocybin had a profound effect on making these volunteers feel happier weeks after they had taken the drug, said Nutt – who was sacked as the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2009 after repeatedly clashing with government ministers about the dangers and classification of illicit drugs.

    Nutt's team also discovered that another section of the brain known as the default mode network was also influenced by psilocybin. "People with depression have overactive default mode networks and so ruminate on themselves, on their inadequacies, on their badness, that they are worthless, that they have failed – to an extent that is sometimes delusional. Again psilo-cybin appears to block that activity and stops this obsessive rumination."

    To determine if psilocybin could be used as a treatment to help patients, Nutt and his team were given £550,000 by the Medical Research Council to begin a three-year project to test the drug on people with depression. Patients who had failed to respond to two previous treatments would be selected. The aim was to test 30 with the drug and 30 with a placebo.

    However, the group has found its path blocked by bureaucracy. So difficult has the government and the EU made it for companies to manufacture the active ingredients of Class A drugs that price tags of around £100,000 were given by chemical companies.

    "We only need a relatively small amount of the drug, an order worth only a few hundred pounds," said Nutt, who is set to describe his work with psilocybin at the UK Festival of Neuroscience conference in London today. "If we have to pay £100,000 we simply cannot afford to carry out the rest of the study. We have not given up but it is proving very difficult," he said.

    "Depression is now the largest cause of disability in Europe. There are many effective treatments but only about a third of individuals respond fully. At least 10% fail to respond to three different treatments. We badly need more types of treatment but we cannot pursue these because the government is denying scientists access to powerful tools that could help people in need. The regulations that govern researchers access to Class A drugs are totally inappropriate and harmful."



  1. Willyzh
    This is sad. The classification needs to be changed for the drug to be attained readily, and then be demonstrated to be medically useful. But its medical usefulness needs to be proven for the classification to be changed and the drug attained for research. Or, pay so much money to get a special license that you can't possibly afford the study. How can the study be approved but a special license costs exorbitant prices?

    Special provisions should be made for this type of research, in the name of scientific advancement. Something similar has happened before... beaurocratic meddling hampering the reclassification of controlled substances to be provided for studies to determine if they are medically useful; for example with proving MDMA to be an effective therapeutic tool for PTSD.

    Here's a peek at what's going on in similar situations:

    "Spanish Study of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Concluded)

    Started in 2000, this study was the world's first clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. This dose-response study, in 29 women with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD caused by rape or childhood sexual abuse, was designed to compare the effectiveness of five dosages of MDMA in combination with psychotherapy: 50 mg, 75 mg, 100 mg, 125 mg, 150 mg. Six of the 29 subjects were treated before pressure from the Madrid Anti-Drug Authority led to the revocation of permission to use the study site. As of May 13, 2002, when the study was shut down for political reasons, we had completed treating four patients in the 50 mg dose group (three patients received 50 mg and one received a placebo), and two people in the 75 mg dose group (one patient received 75 mg and one received a placebo)."

    Here's what MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) has to say:
    So who is keeping the price of a small amount of psilocybin at £100,000 for a few hundred pounds of the drug? Most likely, the drug companies themselves. There's a conflict of interest. It has nothing to do with licensing at all, it seems to me. If they have approval, why not hire a trained mycologist to grow mushrooms? Or a chemist to wash some chinese-synthesized psilocybin? What costs £100,000? It rains a lot in England, go pick them.

    It seems to me that the hefty price-tag is just to ensure that the study doesn't take place. Not because of "primitive attitudes" but because pharmaceutical companies are most likely paying politicians to come up with ways to stop it. Corporate influence over politics is obviously the real problem. Maybe MAPS can help fund the British study to pave the way for advancements in the US. Or corporate influence over politics can be stopped, somehow.

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