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Research into Magic Mushrooms as Treatment for Depression Stalled by Laws

Update Date: Apr 08, 2013 11:01 AM EDT

Depression afflicts millions of adults worldwide and not everyone responds well to the current drug therapies and treatments available. A new drug trial, the world's first, aims to study the effects of using magic mushrooms in treating people with depression. The study, which is headed by David Nutt, who is the president of the British Neuroscience Association and professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at the Imperial College in London, received funding from the United Kingdom's Medical Research Council. Despite the grant for the drug trial, the UK and the European Union (EU) have prevented the trail from starting due to regulations surrounding illegal drugs.

Due to the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) that the EU follows for the use of illegal drugs and UK's laws that control the licensing for using illegal drugs in research, the drug trial has been delayed and the start date, which was supposed to be at the beginning of this year, is currently not set. Nutt plans on asking for a change in regulations at the BNA's Festival of Neuroscience located at the Barbican Center in London.

Nutt believes that his drug trial will be beneficial for depressed patients because certain side effects of magic mushroom, which is a psychedelic drug that causes hallucinations and other changes in one's senses, have been shown to combat the symptoms of depression. Based on previous research, psilocybin, an ingredient found in magic mushrooms, has the ability to relieve symptoms and side effects from severe types of depression. Nutt believes that if research can be done on magic mushrooms, a new form of treatment can be available for depressed patients who are at higher risks due to the fact that they do not respond to other drugs.

According to the research team, when psilocybin was injected into healthy participants, the drug was able to turn off a section of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex. This frontal region of the brain has been known to be working overdrive in depressed patients. Thus, if the drug can switch off this area in depressed patients, their symptoms might be alleviated.

Psilocybin, however, is illegal in the UK and the EU. Under UK law, psilocybin is classified as a Class A drug which is the category used for drugs that are considered to be the most dangerous. Under the laws of the United Nations, psilocybin is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which means that it has a high chance for being abused and has no identified medical benefits.

"The law for the control of drugs like psilocybin as a Schedule 1 Class A drug makes it almost impossible to use them for research and the reason we haven't started the study is because finding companies who could manufacture the drug and who are prepared to go through the regulatory hoops to get the license, which can take up to a year and triple the price, is proving very difficult. The whole situation is bedeviled by this primitive, old-fashioned attitude that Schedule 1 drugs could never have therapeutic potential, and so they have to be made impossible to access," Nutt explained.

Nutt believes that regulations must be changed in the hopes that research can determine the possible medical benefits that this ingredient might have for depressed patients.  

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