Do Magic Mushrooms Hold the Key to Treating Depression?

Look out Prozac, Effexor, Wellbutrin, Cymbalta and other prescription antidepressants. One prominent and controversial British researcher thinks that psilocybin — the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms” — could help treat major depression.

Professor David Nutt stops well short of suggesting people follow the advice of 1960s LSD guru Timothy Leary to “turn on, tune in and drop out.” But he does think it’s about time governments wise up to the potential therapeutic benefits of LSD, ecstasy, mephedrone and cannabis.

“I feel quite passionately that these drugs are profound drugs; they change the brain in a way that no other drugs do,” he told the BBC. “And I find it bizarre that no one has studied them before, and they haven’t because it’s hard and illegal.”

Nutt’s comments come on the heels of publication of new research by his group on the use of psilocybin in treating depression. A second study is slated to be published online this week by the British Journal of Psychiatry. It reportedly shows psilocybin improved subjects’ recall of personal memories — that, researchers say, could make the drug useful in conjunction with psychotherapy.

It seems the potential value of illegal drugs in medical therapy is being recognized more and more. In an article published here last May, we noted that the Drug Enforcement Administration had just granted 55 unnamed companies licenses to grow cannabis in the United States. Observers say the pharmaceutical companies need the pot farms to cultivate weed so they can produce a generic version of the THC pill Marinol, which currently is marketed by Watson Pharmaceuticals (NYSE:WPI), and at least one other cannabis-based pill for a wide variety of new uses.

Drugmakers certainly would like to grab a piece of the legalized pot market someday. After all, industry observers think the business could be in the range of $10 billion to $40 billion — and maybe even top $100 billion annually. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia already have approved the use of medical marijuana and six states have legislation pending. In our earlier article, we estimated that legal sales of pot already approached $2 billion last year.

An announcement last week gives further hope to those advocating the use of illegal drugs in medicine. British drug company GW Pharmaceuticals (PINK:GWPRF) said its spray that uses natural marijuana instead of synthetic sources could be available in the United States by the end of 2013, according to a Huffington Post article.

The company hopes to market the product, called Sativex, to treat cancer pain. It already has been approved in Canada, New Zealand and eight European countries, but for another use — to help relieve muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis.

If Sativex gets FDA approval, it might be a turning point in government policy and eventually could pave the way for other companies to follow in GW Pharma’s footsteps.

“There is a real disconnect between what the public seems to be demanding and what the states have pushed for and what the market is providing,” Aron Lichtman, a Virginia Commonwealth University pharmacology professor and president of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, told Huffington Post. “It seems to me a company with a great deal of vision would say, ‘If there is this demand and need, we could develop a drug that will help people and we will make a lot of money.'”

And so would investors who get in early.

As of this writing, Barry Cohen did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned stocks.

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