You may know the chemical 4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine by its more common name, psilocybin. Long used as a sacrament among indigenous peoples in the Americas — and more recently branded as an illicit party drug — in recent years, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms has received a lot of attention from scientists for potential to treat substance use disorder, anxiety, and depression.
In their review of seven published psilocybin clinical trials, the team led by Kelan Thomas, assistant professor of clinical sciences at Touro University California, concluded that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy shows strong potential for improving outcomes in patients living with depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder.
The advantage of psilocybin-assisted therapy, they write, is that it provides significant benefits for patients who haven’t responded to therapy or medication. Patients can also show improvement after just a few six-hour “medicated” therapy sessions and a few weeks of follow-up therapy.
These studies all investigated the use of psilocybin in strictly controlled clinical conditions under the supervision of therapists and other health professionals. Additionally, all of the clinical trials investigated by the researchers consisted of small groups of subjects — as few as nine for an open-label (non-blinded) trial investigating obsessive-compulsive disorder and as many as 51 in a double-blind study of cancer-related depression and anxiety.
As psychological and psychiatric researchers have gained greater access to brain imaging technologies like fMRI, scientists have formed new hypotheses about the physiological roots of psychological disorders.
These new attitudes among scientists run counter to those of the law enforcement community. In most of the United States — New Mexico seems to have found a loophole — psilocybin is still classified as a Schedule I substance. This means it has “a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. When — or whether — the DEA will take the most recent scientific data into account, however, remains to be seen.