Depression (especially in combination with anxiety) is a very common mental disorder, affecting up to 1 in 5 people in their lifetime. It is defined as “a medical illness that affects how you feel, think, and behave, causing persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Depression can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. It is a chronic illness that usually requires long-term treatment.” (DSM-5).

Current behavioural treatments and medications are effective for some people; however a considerable percentage do not respond to them, leading to ‘electroshock therapy’ (ECT) as a treatment of last resort.

Building on the literature from the 50s and 60s, which suggested that psychedelics might be effective in treating depression, our Programme investigates the effectiveness of:

Psilocybin for Depression

Following up on the success of our ground-breaking neuroimaging study with psilocybin, our Beckley/Imperial Research Programme collaborators completed in 2016 a Medical Research Council-funded clinical trial of psilocybin in the treatment of depression.

Patients with treatment-resistant Major Depressive Disorder were given psilocybin twice, and on each occasion, spent several hours in a positive setting (including preparation, guided imagery, classical music, and aftercare). Patients then filled out questionnaires measuring different dimensions of depression, to test for changes over the course of the study. The study also included a brain imaging component, with patients undergoing fMRI before and after treatment, and a follow-up examination at three and six months.

Results from this study are presented here.

This study was carried out as a clinical trial, in which patients received pharmaceutical grade compounds of known strength and purity, under the supervision of trained clinicians.

We cannot advise on the procurement of illegal psychoactive substances, nor can we recommend self-medication. While we and other advocacy groups are working for psychedelics to become accepted into medical practice, we also acknowledge that – especially outside of the context of a controlled environment under the supervision of trained professionals – they can have serious and traumatic consequences. A growing community of psychiatrists and therapists can offer support for those seeking help in making sense of psychedelic experiences. These include those listed at Psychedelic.Support and the MAPS Integration List.

"If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do".

Stephen Fry

Watch Robin Carhart-Harris presenting at the ICPR 2016 how psychedelics could treat depression


Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: an open-label feasibility study

Lancet Psychiatry, 2016

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Natural speech algorithm applied to baseline interview data can predict which patients will respond to psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression

Journal of Affective Disorders, 2018

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Increased nature relatedness and decreased authoritarian political views after psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression

Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2018

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Quality of Acute Psychedelic Experience Predicts Therapeutic Efficacy of Psilocybin for Treatment-Resistant Depression

Frontiers in Pharmacology, 2018

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Psilocybin with psychological support improves emotional face recognition in treatment-resistant depression

Psychopharmacology, 2017

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Increased amygdala responses to emotional faces after psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression

Neuropsychopharmacology, 2017

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