(Evert-Jan Daniels/AFP/Getty Images)

Since their introduction to the global public in the 1950s, antidepressants have been prescribed to countless patients in their attempt to find relief from depression. Today there are five different oral families of antidepressants. Two of these families involve reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, SNRIs), meaning the drug is allowed to stay in the synapse of the nerve rather than being reabsorbed. Reuptake inhibitors are the most widely prescribed drugs for treating depression. When combined with the other three families of antidepressants (SARI, Tetracyclics, MAOIs) these five families of antidepressant medications total more than 30 different brands of oral antidepressants. Prozac, Effexor and Zoloft are a few of the more familiar product names.

However, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that approximately half of the patients who were prescribed oral antidepressants were unresponsive. Couple this with the statistic that 1 in 10 Americans is prescribed an oral antidepressant and that fact is staggering. Many people who live with depression do not respond to today’s psychotropic solutions.

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Scientists in Germany have isolated the enzymes necessary to produce psilocybin, the key hallucinogen in magic mushrooms. This knowledge lays the groundwork for scientists who envision mass production of the compound to treat a variety of mental health conditions.

Scientists map psilocybin

The study discovered the correct sequence for psilocybin beginning with a 4-hydroy-L-tryptophon molecule, then used a series of enzymes to strip off carbon dioxide molecules, and finally adding phosphorus and methyl groups. Typically, replicating fungi requires four steps—each requiring a different enzyme—but the study streamlined the process to require only three.

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[DIGEST: Scientific American, Lancet Psychiatry, Huffington Post]

The first clinical trial to use psilocybin, the active compound in “magic mushrooms,” to treat major depression shows promise in a small but breakthrough study. Researchers from Imperial College London gave psilocybin to 12 people suffering from severe depression. One week after receiving an oral dose of the compound, each participant exhibited significant improvement in symptoms. The study further demonstrated psilocybin’s safety in a supervised setting.

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