Psychedelics in the Treatment of Depression
Depression is a mental disorder characterized by symptoms like mood disturbances, persistent inability to feel pleasure, and suicidal tendencies. Roughly 264 million people worldwide were affected by depression in 2017.1 Studies suggest that up to 20% of the members of American society will experience depressive episodes during their lifetime.2 Anxiety disorders occur parallel to clinical depression in about 50% of the cases.3
Mainstream antidepressants have played an important role in alleviating the symptoms in patients suffering from depression. However, their effects are often delayed, unwanted side effects are common, and some patients do not respond to the treatment at all.4 The socioeconomic costs associated with depression are high,5 and many patients relapse after the treatment is terminated6 (to learn more about the efficacy of SSRIs and their interactions with other substances, read this MIND Blog post by Camile Bahi).
Psychedelics offer a new avenue in the treatment of depression. The studies that we have highlighted show a potential that is unmatched by any of the current alternatives. Yet, at the same time, we have to remain careful not to declare an early victory.
Although promising, the research presented in this list has mostly been done with a small sample size, with carefully designed settings, and with therapists with many years of experience. The therapeutic alliance – the relationship between the patient and therapist – and placebo effects are definitely at play. Moreover, psychedelics can’t directly impact the underlying (family, societal, economic) causes of depression.
Taking all of that into consideration, the following 10 publications will summarize the most important studies investigating the potential of psychedelics in the treatment of depression and anxiety.
1. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 354 diseases and injuries for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017
2. Hasin DS, Sarvet AL, Meyers JL, et al. (2018) Epidemiology of Adult DSM-5 Major Depressive Disorder and Its Specifiers in the United States. JAMA Psychiatry 75(4):336–346. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.4602
3. Kircanski, K., LeMoult, J., Ordaz, S. and Gotlib, I. H. (2017) Investigating the nature of co-occurring depression and anxiety: Comparing diagnostic and dimensional research approaches. Journal of Affective Disorders 216:123-135
4. Penn, E., & Tracy, D. K. (2012). The drugs don’t work? antidepressants and the current and future pharmacological management of depression. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 2(5):179–188.
5. Whiteford, H. A., Degenhardt, L., Rehm, J., Baxter, A. J., … and Vos, T. (2013). Global burden of disease attributable to mental and substance use disorders: findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet, 382(9904):1575–1586
6. Geddes, J., Carney, S., Davies, C., Furukawa, T., Kupfer, D., Frank, E.. (2003) Relapse prevention with antidepressant drug treatment in depressive disorders: a systematic review. Lancet, 361(9358):653–661.