OPEN Foundation

D. May

Effects of Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy on Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial


Importance: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a substantial public health burden, but current treatments have limited effectiveness and adherence. Recent evidence suggests that 1 or 2 administrations of psilocybin with psychological support produces antidepressant effects in patients with cancer and in those with treatment-resistant depression.

Objective: To investigate the effect of psilocybin therapy in patients with MDD.

Design, setting, and participants: This randomized, waiting list-controlled clinical trial was conducted at the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Adults aged 21 to 75 years with an MDD diagnosis, not currently using antidepressant medications, and without histories of psychotic disorder, serious suicide attempt, or hospitalization were eligible to participate. Enrollment occurred between August 2017 and April 2019, and the 4-week primary outcome assessments were completed in July 2019. A total of 27 participants were randomized to an immediate treatment condition group (n = 15) or delayed treatment condition group (waiting list control condition; n = 12). Data analysis was conducted from July 1, 2019, to July 31, 2020, and included participants who completed the intervention (evaluable population).

Interventions: Two psilocybin sessions (session 1: 20 mg/70 kg; session 2: 30 mg/70 kg) were given (administered in opaque gelatin capsules with approximately 100 mL of water) in the context of supportive psychotherapy (approximately 11 hours). Participants were randomized to begin treatment immediately or after an 8-week delay.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome, depression severity was assessed with the GRID-Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (GRID-HAMD) scores at baseline (score of ≥17 required for enrollment) and weeks 5 and 8 after enrollment for the delayed treatment group, which corresponded to weeks 1 and 4 after the intervention for the immediate treatment group. Secondary outcomes included the Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology-Self Rated (QIDS-SR).

Results: Of the randomized participants, 24 of 27 (89%) completed the intervention and the week 1 and week 4 postsession assessments. This population had a mean (SD) age of 39.8 (12.2) years, was composed of 16 women (67%), and had a mean (SD) baseline GRID-HAMD score of 22.8 (3.9). The mean (SD) GRID-HAMD scores at weeks 1 and 4 (8.0 [7.1] and 8.5 [5.7]) in the immediate treatment group were statistically significantly lower than the scores at the comparable time points of weeks 5 and 8 (23.8 [5.4] and 23.5 [6.0]) in the delayed treatment group. The effect sizes were large at week 5 (Cohen d = 2.5; 95% CI, 1.4-3.5; P < .001) and week 8 (Cohen d = 2.6; 95% CI, 1.5-3.7; P < .001). The QIDS-SR documented a rapid decrease in mean (SD) depression score from baseline to day 1 after session 1 (16.7 [3.5] vs 6.3 [4.4]; Cohen d = 2.6; 95% CI, 1.8-3.5; P < .001), which remained statistically significantly reduced through the week 4 follow-up (6.0 [5.7]; Cohen d = 2.3; 95% CI, 1.5-3.0; P < .001). In the overall sample, 17 participants (71%) at week 1 and 17 (71%) at week 4 had a clinically significant response to the intervention (≥50% reduction in GRID-HAMD score), and 14 participants (58%) at week 1 and 13 participants (54%) at week 4 were in remission (≤7 GRID-HAMD score).

Conclusions and relevance: Findings suggest that psilocybin with therapy is efficacious in treating MDD, thus extending the results of previous studies of this intervention in patients with cancer and depression and of a nonrandomized study in patients with treatment-resistant depression.

Trial registration: Identifier: NCT03181529.

Davis, A. K., Barrett, F. S., May, D. G., Cosimano, M. P., Sepeda, N. D., Johnson, M. W., Finan, P. H., & Griffiths, R. R. (2021). Effects of Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy on Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA psychiatry, 78(5), 481–489.

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The Acute Effects of the Atypical Dissociative Hallucinogen Salvinorin A on Functional Connectivity in the Human Brain


Salvinorin A (SA) is a κ-opioid receptor agonist and atypical dissociative hallucinogen found in Salvia divinorum. Despite the resurgence of hallucinogen studies, the effects of κ-opioid agonists on human brain function are not well-understood. This placebo-controlled, within-subject study used functional magnetic resonance imaging for the first time to explore the effects of inhaled SA on strength, variability, and entropy of functional connectivity (static, dynamic, and entropic functional connectivity, respectively, or sFC, dFC, and eFC). SA tended to decrease within-network sFC but increase between-network sFC, with the most prominent effect being attenuation of the default mode network (DMN) during the first half of a 20-min scan (i.e., during peak effects). SA reduced brainwide dFC but increased brainwide eFC, though only the former effect survived multiple comparison corrections. Finally, using connectome-based classification, most models trained on dFC network interactions could accurately classify the first half of SA scans. In contrast, few models trained on within- or between-network sFC and eFC performed above chance. Notably, models trained on within-DMN sFC and eFC performed better than models trained on other network interactions. This pattern of SA effects on human brain function is strikingly similar to that of other hallucinogens, necessitating studies of direct comparisons.

Doss, M. K., May, D. G., Johnson, M. W., Clifton, J. M., Hedrick, S. L., Prisinzano, T. E., Griffiths, R. R., & Barrett, F. S. (2020). The Acute Effects of the Atypical Dissociative Hallucinogen Salvinorin A on Functional Connectivity in the Human Brain. Scientific reports, 10(1), 16392.

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The Psychedelic Debriefing in Alcohol Dependence Treatment: Illustrating Key Change Phenomena through Qualitative Content Analysis of Clinical Sessions


Research on the clinical applications of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy has demonstrated promising early results for treatment of alcohol dependence. Detailed description of the content and methods of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, as it is conducted in clinical settings, is scarce.

Methods: An open-label pilot (proof-of-concept) study of psilocybin-assisted treatment of alcohol dependence (NCT01534494) was conducted to generate data for a phase 2 RCT (NCT02061293) of a similar treatment in a larger population. The present paper presents a qualitative content analysis of the 17 debriefing sessions conducted in the pilot study, which occurred the day after corresponding psilocybin medication sessions.

Results: Participants articulated a series of key phenomena related to change in drinking outcomes and acute subjective effects of psilocybin.

Discussion: The data illuminate change processes in patients’ own words during clinical sessions, shedding light on potential therapeutic mechanisms of change and how participants express effects of psilocybin. This study is unique in analyzing actual clinical sessions, as opposed to interviews of patients conducted separately from treatment.

Nielson, E. M., May, D. G., Forcehimes, A. A., & Bogenschutz, M. P. (2018). The Psychedelic Debriefing in Alcohol Dependence Treatment: Illustrating Key Change Phenomena through Qualitative Content Analysis of Clinical Sessions. Frontiers in Pharmacology9, 132. 10.3389/fphar.2018.00132
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