Psilocybin: new therapeutic perspectives

The two pilot studies, one on depression in Alzheimer's and one on Lyme disease, assess if psilocybin offers alternatives to ineffective standard treatments.

Translated from the original Italian version.

Studies on psilocybin show promising results

Psilocybin, originally extracted from certain hallucinogenic mushrooms (of the genera Psilocybe, Panaeolus, Inocybe and Stropharia), is a substance that can now be easily synthesised. It has been studied for some time as an adjunct treatment to psychotherapy for severe depression, depression resistant to the usual antidepressants, obsessive-compulsive disorder, alcohol and other addictions, anorexia nervosa, and anxiety in patients with severe illnesses.

Prof. Albert Garcia-Romeu, expert in psychiatry and behavioural sciences from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (USA), and founding member of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins University, reported at INSIGHT 2023 on the current state of research on psilocybin.1 He highlighted the numerous studies demonstrating the rapid antidepressant effects of psilocybin. In addition, recent results have shown a reduction in anxiety and depressive moods and an improvement in the quality of life of patients with serious diseases such as cancer. These promising results point to a potentially broad range of applications for psilocybin therapy.

The challenge of neurodegenerative diseases

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's are often associated with neuropsychiatric symptoms such as apathy and depression, which significantly affect patients' quality of life. Unfortunately, standard antidepressants are often not effective in these patient groups, so new treatment options need to be sought.

The first pilot study discussed in the presentation focuses on the effect of psilocybin in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or early Alzheimer's disease.2 These preliminary studies aim to determine whether psilocybin can alleviate depressive symptoms in people struggling with cognitive decline.

Prof Garcia-Romeu focuses on the challenges posed by neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer's disease, which affects millions of people worldwide. Despite the numerous agents that have been tested over the years, only a few of them have delivered significant results. Excitingly, research on psychedelic drugs in animal models has yielded encouraging results on the potential to improve cognitive performance.

Psilocybin for Lyme disease after treatment

Lyme disease, which affects a significant percentage of Lyme disease patients, can lead to chronic symptoms after treatment. Symptomatology consists of persistent fatigue, pain, and cognitive difficulties. There is currently no effective therapy for this disease.

An ongoing study is currently looking at the potential of psilocybin in patients with this condition. Preliminary results suggest a statistically significant reduction in symptoms, particularly in the areas of pain and fatigue.3

Thoughts by Professor Albert Garcia-Romeu on psychedelic therapy

Prof. Garcia-Romeu concluded his presentation by addressing the broader context of psychedelic research. He underlined the importance of responsible reporting by the media and stresses the need to avoid simplification and sensationalism. He added that ethical considerations play an important role in the context of the commercialisation of psychedelic drugs. In addition, quality control is a challenge as these therapies become more popular.

The session explored the intriguing possibilities of using psilocybin in the treatment of neurodegenerative and chronic diseases. The data available today is preliminary, but gives hope to patients who do not experience relief with conventional treatments.

  1. Prof. Dr. Albert Garcia-Romeu. New Directions for Psychedelic Therapies: Psilocybin in Neurodegenerative Disease and Chronic Illness. INSIGHT 2023.  01/09/2023 11:00-11:30.