THE MAGIC IN THE MUSHROOM
The biggest news to come out of the festival was former UK government advisor David Nutt‘ s announcement that “insane”
laws are delaying a trial he plans to conduct to explore the use of psilocybin – the active ingredient of magic mushrooms – to treat depression. Predictably, a furore erupted in the British press about using illegal drugs for research. But consider this: psilocybin and certain other illegal drugs are heavily regulated ‘schedule 1’ substances because they are judged to have no beneficial uses. But how on earth are we to know whether they have any medical use when the necessary research is made almost impossible by the existing regulations? Heroin, on the other hand, is ‘schedule 2’ because it has known medical uses, and so research into its effects is easy. It’s a funny old world. What’s genuinely interesting about this story though (politics aside) is the science behind the prediction that psilocybin might be beneficial in the treatment of depression. There are good reasons for thinking this: psilocybin – or rather the substance the body breaks it down into, psilocin – acts on
the serotonin chemical systems in the brain, just like antidepressants do. A lack of serotonin can be a factor in depression – but psilocin tackles this by ‘mimicking’ serotonin’s effects when it binds to a type of serotonin receptor called 5-HT-2a.