As anyone who’s suffered from depression knows, finding a treatment that works — whether that be therapy, medication, or a combination of the two — is an arduous process that often feels just as bad as the symptoms of the disorder itself. In short: Depression sucks and the treatments we currently have aren’t nearly as perfect as commercials for Zoloft would have you believe. But there’s some good news: We now have evidence that psychedelic substances including ayahuasca and magic mushrooms may hold the key to alleviating the symptoms.
Discover Magazine reports that at the recently-held Psychedelic Science conference, two studies provided significant evidence that taking a drug-induced trip into one’s mind may hold the key to relieving those living with depression of their symptoms. The first study, conducted in Brazil, was a follow-up to a 2015 study investigating whether ayahuasca could mitigate the effects of depression long term. While the original study was promising, its author noted that a major problem was the lack of a placebo. And because all participants received an actual dose of the substance, it was impossible to tell who was benefitting from the treatment and who was just feeling better because they believed they were.
The new study changed that. In fact, all 35 people involved in the study (all of whom had tried two or more traditional medications), were reported to feel better the next day, regardless of whether they took actual ayahuasca or “an inert bitter brew” that not only tasted bad but also did absolutely nothing.
To try ayahuasca, though, you might need to travel outside of the United States and stay at an expensive lodge. Plus, there are some unpleasant effects that the folk remedy brings out, including vomit — lots and lots of vomit. You want to make a depressed person even more depressed? Tell them that the best medicine (not laughter) could involve them puking their guts out for hours and see how they feel. (Source: personal experience after being told this.) So what to try instead? Well, magic mushrooms could be the answer that you seek.
Wait, though! Before you start scrolling through your phone to figure out which of your college friends is granola enough to go on regular head trips, it must be understood that for the trip to alleviate depression, it must be structured in a certain way. Leor Roseman, a doctoral candidate in the neuroscience department at Imperial College London and author of the study, administered magic mushrooms twice to each participant. The first time was a “teaser,” Discover reports. The second time? A full-blown trip.
During their clinically induced trips, participants listened to music with their eyes covered to facilitate introspection, while two therapists recorded the participant’s experience. Of the 19 people who completed the study, most showed dramatic improvements up to a week after the sessions. Their gains persisted for about five weeks, at which point some people continued to improve while some got worse.
Of course, this is only the beginning, and, in several years, we’ll probably be much closer to figuring out if and how psychedelics are truly the answer. For now, though, these studies are an excellent reminder that if you suffer from depression, more help could soon be on the way.