Psilocybin-assisted therapy for depression

Between 29 and 42 people per 1000 suffer from major depressive disorder (MDD) costing around £20-24 billion per year in England. One third of MDD patients are resistant to treatment.

The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust are leaders in research into treatment resistant depression and house a specialist clinical service for pioneering new treatments.

Psilocybin (a psychedelic drug found in some mushrooms), given alongside psychological support, has shown promise in preliminary trials as a novel treatment for treatment resistant depression. Our combination of expertise, specialist clinical service, research cohorts and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre infrastructure placed us in an optimal position to test psilocybin therapy as a new treatment for treatment resistant depression.

Clinical trials on psilocybin-assisted therapy

We are conducting a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded trial on the feasibility of psilocybin therapy for treatment resistant depression. This attracted interest from COMPASS Pathways, who manufacture psilocybin to pharmaceutical standard, to run a large healthy volunteer trial and a large multicentre trial in patients here.  

This has given us a critical mass of clinicians and researchers to establish The Psychoactive Trials Group. In January 2022 the results of the healthy volunteer study were published, which was the largest ever randomised controlled trial published with psilocybin to date. We were the lead European site for the COMPASS Pathways multicentre trial of psilocybin therapy to determine if the treatment is safe and benefits patients. The trial has recently completed, and the results have shown that psilocybin reduces depression symptoms. These results were reported widely, gainlng attention across the national press as well as broadcast news. The researchers are now moving onto larger trials, to facilitate authorisation to use the therapy in healthcare settings. 

Psychedelics for other conditions

Our success has led to further plans for psilocybin therapy to be trialled in those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This study will include brain-scanning and blood-based measures to investigate differences in treatment response.

In May 2022 researchers at IoPPN and South London and Maudsley, led by NIHR Maudsley BRC's theme lead for Child Mental Health and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, Professor Grainne McAlonan commenced the first ever study of psilocybin in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), to explore how brain pathways involving serotonin may function in adults with ASD.

In July 2022 a new multi-centre trial was established to explore the potential therapeutic benefits of psilocybin for adults living with anorexia nervosa, led by BRC-funded researchers Professor Janet Treasure and Dr Hubertus Himmerich. 

In addition, this work has attracted funding from Beckley PsyTech to investigate the efficacy of psilocybin for treating headache attacks and a first-in-human safety study of 5-methoxydimethyltryptamine (MDMA) in healthy volunteers. MDMA therapy is also being trialled for PTSD with support from the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies.

This work, with BRC support, has resulted in a new mental health research and treatment centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust jointly funded by industry and the NHS. This will increase our capacity for research and trials in this promising therapeutic area, consolidating our position as the leading place in Europe for research into treatment resistant depression and psychedelic assisted psychotherapy.





Novel Diagnostics and Therapeutics | Industry Collaboration