The Magic Red Pill

Depressed people have to pop pills. It’s currently one of the only ways to manage the disorder. 350 million people around the world suffer from some kind of depression, and those who are fortunate enough to get treated for it are typically prescribed medication that they have to take multiple times a day. The medications may work, but they also come with countless other negative side effects and take weeks to take effect.

What if you could manage your depression with a single pill taken only once? What if this pill had no side effects and started working immediately? Sounds like science fiction, right? Well it’s not. In fact, this “Magic Pill” has been a part of human culture for thousands of years. It’s only recently that scientists are beginning to explore the possibility that magic mushrooms may have therapeutic effects.

Magic mushrooms grow naturally and come in many types. However, they all contain a chemical compound called psilocybin which is the active ingredient. Psilocybin is part of an entire class of drugs called psychedelics. While under the influence, people are typically entered into a state of consciousness completely unlike any others normally experienced in life, even by other classes of drugs. This experience is commonly known as a “trip”. There have been countless reports of a “mixing of the senses” and “feeling at one with the universe” from recreational users while “tripping”. Studies done in the 1970’s suggested that psychedelics may have clinical potential. However, due to the war on drugs, this class of drugs was made illegal in the 1980’s, and all research was stopped.

In 2016, Roland Griffiths and his research team at Johns Hopkins University ran the first experiment involving psychedelics since they were banned. The study was conducted on cancer patients who exhibited symptoms of depression and anxiety. The goal was to see how effective psilocybin would be in managing these symptoms. Unlike similar studies conducted 30 years before, this one was set up so that neither the administers of the drug nor the patients knew whether the drug was real or a placebo. The only people who knew which dose was which, were the researchers. This is known as a double blind study and is highly regarded as a well designed experiment in scientific circles.

The study consisted of 51 patients and the results look promising. There was an almost immediate drop in symptoms of depression and anxiety in most of the patients and the results were long lasting. By the six month follow up, 78% of patients showed a reduction in symptoms of depression and 83% showed a reduction of symptoms in anxiety. 65% were cured of their depression and 57% were cured of their anxiety.

There were zero physical side effects.

This study has gotten a lot of recognition and praise from other scientists in the field and the results have since been verified independently. The testing of the drug is now moving to phase III clinical trials. While the results look promising, there is a lot more research to be done before this can be established as an approved method of treatment. For example, while this didn’t happen in the study, there have been many reports by recreational users of extreme psychological distress during their “trips”.

 Can psilocybin actually turn into a viable cure? Scientists just aren’t sure at the moment. However, what we should not do, is completely disregard or discredit any of the results simply because they were obtained using an illegal substance. All of these substances were hastily made illegal before their effects could be thoroughly scientifically explored. Psychedelics are powerful substances and while there are cases of negative psychological experiences, there have been countless other reports of these drugs having an extremely positive and long lasting effect on the user.

Just put legality aside for one moment. We have a class of drugs that people have been using for thousands of years with many positive effects. Should we swallow this red pill and see what kind of a trip it takes us on, or continue taking the blue one and live in ignorance?

 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about the study, The Drug Classroom has a very detailed and thorough account of the experiment and others like it.

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