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A magic medicine to end depression?

Film follows first clinical trials to investigate whether mushrooms can improve mental health

16 November, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Imperial College’s Robin Carhartt-Harris

CAN magic mushrooms cure depression?

That is the question being asked by experts at Imperial College London who have been working with a group of patients who have proved resistant to traditional medication.

The Imperial College trials are being conducted by Professor David Nutt – the former government drugs adviser – and the NHS trust’s head of psychedelic research, Dr Robin Carhart-Harris.

Now a new documentary about the psilocybin – the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms – follows three troubled men, their families and leading scientists conducting the country’s first clinical trials of this kind.

It shows how the process can help therapists break down psychological barriers, particularly in closed off men.

In the film Dr Carhart-Harris said: “I think psychedelics have the potential to revolutionise depression treatment, if not psychiatry.”

The film, Magic Medicine, is due to be screened across London over the next few weeks.

Executive producer Lizzie Gillett said: “For me, this was a deeply fascinating topic. What is it that deals with depression? Is it the chemicals, or the therapy?”

She added: “One in four people are depressed – and for many people anti- depressants don’t work. But there are other ways of helping people.”

Speaking of the process, she said: “It is quite astounding seeing grown men go into deepest parts of their minds like that.

“It reminded me of women in childbirth. Not that it is physical like that, but I’ve never seen men break down like that.”

Lizzie Gillett: ‘There are other ways of helping people’

Doses given to patients range from a tiny amount – around 10mg – to the equivalent of a couple of hundred magic mushrooms.

Psychotherapists speak in the film about how the process opened patients up in a new way, and allowed them to tackle the root of their problems.

One patient for the first time is found to be “in a battle with a large dark evil force, that he associated with his mum”.

“There was so much darkness and so much pain, we were thinking where is this going to go,” the therapist tells the film.

The first trial consisted of 20 patients. All had been found to be resistant to traditional anti- depressant medication. Ms Gillett said Imperial originally refused film-makers access, but after it

proved positive, they let them in. The findings have been published in The Lancet scientific journal and trials are ongoing and looking for new recruits who meet certain criteria.

Ms Gillett said: “I always wanted to do something on mental health, but something with a positive message.”

She said: “In February 2015 I read in The New Yorker about psychedelics being used to treat anxiety and I noticed they had set up a trial in London for psilocybin.”

The film includes an interview with Baroness Molly Meacher, who sits on the all party parliamentary group for drugs policy.

People may have been denied possible treatments because of the restrictions on research into A class drugs, she says, lamenting the general “conservatism of the British people”.

The film does, of course, come with a warning to people not self-medicate and the psilocybin being used by the researchers is medical grade. “These are really really powerful substances and at the trial you have got a psychologist there, and everything is managed,” said Ms Gillett.

The film is being shown at the JW3 in Finchley Road on November 26 and there is a Q&A with Professor Nutt at Regent Street Cinema on December 19.

For full details visit https://magic medicine.net/ ingredient screenings

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