The tide is turning in the battle to treat depression.
Gradually, we are becoming more aware of the relative ineffectiveness of pharmaceutical interventions in cases of severe depression, and have developed a healthy suspicion of the involvement of ‘big pharma’ in pushing poorly-researched and questionably justified treatments.
Although pharmaceuticals may work for some people, they certainly don’t work for all – and when they don’t work, they can have disastrous consequences. Up to 44% of people suffering from depression have not found relief from typical antidepressant therapies. Even patients who find some form of relief from the usually prescribed antidepressants need frequent doses, causing unpleasant side-effects, and these drugs often lose their effectiveness after several years of treatment.
What’s the first step in breaking free of this ‘pharmaceuticals for all’ view of psychiatry?
A growing body of evidence suggests that psychedelic fungi could be the answer to our pharmaceutical epidemic. Recent large studies, using psilocybin mushrooms, have shown that a single moderate dose of these substances can significantly reduce depression scores in patients with treatment-resistant depression. The antidepressant effect of psychedelics also lasts much longer than typical treatments, with reduced depression scores maintained for several months after treatment.
Scientists believe that the reason psychedelics have such a profound antidepressive effect is because of the unique way they work in the brain. Psychedelics appear to deactivate a control network in the brain called the Default Mode Network (DMN), which is normally responsible for self-reflection and maintaining a sense of self. The DMN is found to be overactive in depressed patients, perhaps linked to the repetitive and obsessive negative thoughts sufferers experience. Therefore psychedelics, by taking control away from the DMN, maybe allowing sufferers of depression to break free from negative, spiraling thoughts.
Psychedelics in Treating Depression
Another reason that psychedelics appear to be so effective in treating depression is due to their ability to induce a ‘mystical’ experience. Participants who describe a highly spiritual or personally meaningful experience with psilocybin were more likely to have reductions in depression scores, according to one study. It appears that there’s something special about having a transcendental encounter during treatment.
This sort of holistic healing is far removed from typical pharmaceutical interventions in the treatment of depression. Taking an SSRI will not produce a mystical experience that can show you the root of your suffering – nor will it reduce the control of the DMN on your thoughts.
Still, would you rather take a course of pills than experiencing a full-blown psychedelic trip? While truly traumatic experiences are rare with psychedelics, and even more unusual in clinical settings, many people may be put off by the thought of a challenging journey into their own psyche.
Microdosing – taking tiny quantities of psilocybin mushrooms – is an option that will allow you to wade in the shallows before jumping into the deep end.
Microdosing means taking a sub-perceptual dose of psilocybin mushrooms, every third day, for several weeks. You should ideally be able to go about your usual routine without noticing any difference – but when you step back at the end of your microdosing regime and reflect on your experiences, you might realize that you felt better than usual, got more work done, or obsessed over details less often.
We believe that the beneficial effects seen in large-scale research projects on psychedelics are also reflected in people who microdose, although to a lesser extent. Nothing will compare to a full-blown psychedelic experience for its raw healing power – but microdosing is a great place to start your journey into the world of psychedelics.
Many people suffering from depression, who have struggled to find results from typical pharmaceutical treatments, report that microdosing helps them break free of rumination and become more enthusiastic about life.
Is Microdosing safe?
Unfortunately, as microdosing is still a novel therapy, there is little research on its effectiveness. Although some very large surveys give us reason to be optimistic, there are no published clinical trials. Currently, the Beckley Foundation is funding the world’s first clinical study into the effectiveness of microdosing in improving creativity. If you’d like to participate in some non-clinical research, surveys like this one at Maastricht University are becoming more common, as curiosity about microdosing grows.
It’s important to remember that since microdosing is largely unstudied, it shouldn’t be viewed as a panacea. Pharmaceutical treatments or talk therapy work for a significant number of people with depression, and it’s safe to assume that microdosing won’t be ideal for everyone. Until we know for sure about the safety of psychedelic microdosing, it’s best to check with your physician before diving straight in.
We also believe that microdosing has potential because it can break you free of dependence on a synthetic chemical. Ideally, microdosing will help people with depression discover the path to recovery, without having to rely on medication. So treating microdosing as a replacement of pharmaceuticals is a dangerous approach – it should be seen as an alternative that could help people heal themselves.