The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has become the first organization to receive a federally funded grant to study the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms, psilocybin, as a potential treatment for depression without the psychedelic effects.
The study’s lead researcher, Dr Ishrat Husain, said the center was “very motivated” to get involved in the effectiveness of psilocybin treatments.
“Most of the research is very preliminary and we can confirm whether these treatments are safe and effective and how to really learn how we might actually adopt them in practice,” Husain explained.
Husain said CityNews there have been studies on how psilocybin, while inducing powerful psychedelic trips, also offers therapeutic effects for people suffering from depression.
“When you administer psilocybin with standard research protocols…the psychedelic experience can last up to eight hours, most of the day, and they need to be supported by trained staff members, so it’s very resource-intensive,” Husain said.
The goal, he said, is to find out if psilocybin is safe and effective, as well as whether it could be adopted into Canada’s current health care system as a treatment.
In the study, 60 people with treatment-resistant depression will be divided into three different groups. Husain said one group will receive a full dose of psilocybin plus a brain serotonin receptor blocker, inhibiting the drug’s psychedelic effect. Another group will receive psilocybin plus a placebo with support from clinical staff.
The third group will receive an active placebo plus the serotonin blocker.
“This will allow us to determine first, is psilocybin better than a dummy pill for improving depression? And also, is psilocybin effective without a psychedelic effect?
CAMH is one of the only Canadian sites studying psilocybin-resistant depression. Currently, magic mushrooms are considered a controlled substance and under the current legal framework, as clinical researchers, they can obtain exemptions to use medicinal substances for research purposes.
“So we have experience navigating some of the loopholes that we need to access for these drug preparation purposes,” Husain said.
The center will receive more than $500,000 to conduct the study.
“The [study] requires a lot of monitoring, their development and their launch. So we gave ourselves a three-year deadline to conduct and complete the study. After that, we will widely disseminate our findings, publications in journals, presentations and scientific meetings.
Husain said CityNews depression isn’t the only mental health issue that could potentially be treated with psilocybin.
“In very small studies, we are developing a portfolio of work in this area here at CAMH…including anxiety diseases, OCD and other conditions as well,” he said.
Currently, they are developing the clinical study and are eagerly awaiting the start of trials. Husain said they haven’t started looking for topics, but added, “I’m sure we won’t have a problem given the excitement around this particular treatment in the audience.”
Health Canada said the project is being funded through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Project Grant competition.
CIHR also launched its first-ever dedicated funding opportunity to “strengthen the evidence base and expand research in psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy through new randomized clinical trials.”
“The funding opportunity is intended to foster research capacity related to psychedelics and inform the development of future larger-scale clinical trials,” CIHR said. CityNews.