The Blog

Depressed? You Need A Fungi To Be With.

Imagine traipsing though a bosky glade, an opening in the trees on some light-dappled hill. The scent of myrtle in the air, the leaves on the trees a golden glow.

Amidst the tufted grass, touched by tears of morning dew, you spy a crop of mushrooms peeking out into the autumn sun.

If that is on one side of the hill, and you pick them and take them home and share them with the family, you have just found breakfast. If it is on the other, you have just become a drug dealer and you will go to jail faster than you can spell "psilocybin".

That makes sense don't it?

The natural organism that has been declared against the law is called a magic mushroom. Many scientific studies have shown their usefulness in helping treat people with the abject misery that can come with cancer. In America, therapists can legally give their patients the mushrooms to help with this.

That's America. In this country, the government has decreed that possession of this particular type of fungus is to be punished. There are other types that are poisonous and could kill you. Those ones are, of course, perfectly legal. They don't mind if you die, just so long as you are not enjoying yourself while you do it.

A recent study has shone an unflattering light on this particular fight in The War On Drugs.

An hallucinogenic chemical called psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms, was given to patients with depression by scientists at Imperial College London. They induced intense psychedelic trips in 12 people using high doses of the 'shrooms.

A week after the experiment all the volunteers were symptom free.

These were people suffering severe depression that had been previously untreatable with a variety of therapies and expensive prescription medicines. They were unable to get better and lived with a crippling condition that the medical profession could not help them with, but nature could.

Three months later five still had no symptoms of the condition at all.

Normally in scientific studies a control group is used that gets a placebo of some kind. In this case, the researchers said it would be difficult to do that as it would be obvious which group had been given the real thing.

They would be the ones mesmerised by the corduroy in their trousers and transfixed by the tune of a doorbell chime.

When they published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal, they said that the psilocybin is believed to cause relief from depression by targeting receptors in the brain but that it might also recreate the same feeling that people get when having an intense religious or spiritual experience.

When the government finds out, it will probably try to ban them too.

About 350 million people worldwide are affected by the disease and according to official figures the annual cost to the economy in England is thought to be around £7.5 billion.

About one in ten patients are resistant to treatment, so you would think that the government would be completely on board, keen to get these people help, fully signed up to save the country all that misery and all that money.

Just kidding - of course they aren't.

The unfortunately named Professor David Nutt, who took part in the research, criticised what he called the "Kafkaesque" tangle of regulations and licensing requirements that had forced the team to wait 32 months before being allowed to conduct the trial.

They added it to the things that you are made to wait about three years for, alongside getting the potholes in your road fixed and finding an empty seat on the train to work.

Because of the delays and the hoops they had to leap through, Professor Nutt said "It cost £1,500 to dose each person, when in a sane world it might cost £30".

It is just that sort of insight and expertise that the government valued when they sacked him for saying things that they disagreed with when he was the Government's drugs advisor in 2009. They hired him for his experience and then fired him for using it.

Maybe the government were stoned at the time.

One of the research scientists said: "For the first time in many years, people who were at the end of the road with currently available treatments reported decreased anxiety, increased optimism and an ability to enjoy things."

That is great news for those lucky enough to have been chosen to take part, even if they did have to wait 32 months to be treated.

However, if you are reading this and you suffer from a debilitating, desperate misery, don't get your hopes up and expect the government to help out and make the lives of sufferers like you easier.

They would rather you stayed depressed.

Before You Go