A new paper argues that excitement has veered into misinformation—and scientists should be the ones to set things straight.
CONCLUSIONS: On the basis of the change in depression scores on the QIDS-SR-16 at week 6, this trial did not show a significant difference in antidepressant effects between psilocybin and escitalopram in a selected group of patients. Secondary outcomes generally favored psilocybin over escitalopram, but the analyses of these outcomes lacked correction for multiple comparisons. Trial of Psilocybin versus Escitalopram for Depression | NEJM
IN APRIL 2021, a widely anticipated paper in the field of psychedelics dropped. The study, a small trial run at Imperial College London and published in The New England Journal of Medicine, investigated the use of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, to treat depression. Led by Robin Carhart-Harris, who now directs the Neuroscape Psychedelics Division at the University of California, San Francisco, the research compared psilocybin with a standard antidepressant. The findings were somewhat lackluster: it found that the psychedelic was only marginally better than traditional treatments at relieving depression.
Back in 2017, Rosalind Watts, an author on that paper and a former clinical lead for the trial at Imperial, had given a TEDx talk on the power of psilocybin to treat depression, prompted by the time she had spent working on the study. In the talk, she shared her belief that psilocybin could “revolutionize mental health care.” But in February of this year, Watts published a Medium piece in which she expressed regret at her initial unbridled enthusiasm. “I can’t help but feel as if I unknowingly contributed to a simplistic and potentially dangerous narrative around psychedelics; a narrative I’m trying to correct,” she wrote.
“I just reflected on how I myself had got caught up in the black and white of like, ‘This is wonderful,’” she says today. “Now having been through that trial … I’m much more neutral and agnostic.”
Scientists’ unwillingness to accept criticism makes Corlett pessimistic about the future of psychedelic research. “Science is meant to be somewhat adversarial. It’s not meant to be presided over by a single group of people,” he says. “I’m still open and excited about the possibilities, but I think this kind of breathless rush to translation and to a conclusion is really dangerous.”
And in an ethically murky turn, for those in the field who have begun to dabble in the corporate side of psychedelics, hyping up findings has become of obvious interest. Declaring conflicts of interest is standard practice in academia, and for good reason: Would you trust a paper that declared that spending more time on Instagram makes you happy if the lead author was receiving money from Meta? But that happens on a regular basis in psychedelic research; many in the field have accepted board positions or consulting fees for the ever-expanding number of psychedelic companies. That means “it’s literally a financial incentive to hype the results,” says Yaden. Watts agrees: “I think for research to be truly solid and not hyping things, it needs to be separated out from the interests of the companies who have stuff to gain.” (For complete article go to WIRED )