When depression is at its worst, it feels like there’s no way out. For sufferers stuck at the depths of hopelessness and self-loathing, the disease can resist all conventional treatments, including various kinds of therapy and pharmaceutical medicines. Tragically, treatment-resistant depression can be a fatal disease, with victims turning to suicide to escape their distress.
However, recent research has suggested that psychedelic substances, long stigmatized by the government and popular culture in the United States, can be effective at helping people come to grips with their lives, even in cases where other treatments have failed.
The studies have caught the attention of well-known investor, lifestyle guru, and author Tim Ferriss, writer of the bestselling book and subsequent blog The 4 Hour Workweek. In support of the potentially lifesaving research, Ferriss has launched a campaign to raise at least $80,000 to fund a pilot study at Johns Hopkins University on the use of psilocybin to help address treatment-resistant depression. At the time this story was written, donors had already contributed over $50,000 to the cause.
The proposed study would build on a growing body of research that paints a compelling picture of the beneficial effects of psychedelic medicines. Another study at Johns Hopkins is looking at how psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can help cancer patients deal with anxiety and improve their quality of life. Previous studies at Hopkins, as well as the UCLA-Harbor Medical Center and New York University, have demonstrated that the substance can help people feel gratitude for their lives and reach a place of peace.
The results of these studies suggest that psychedelics show immense promise for treating mental disorders. “This is incredibly exciting. What if we could decrease or avoid altogether the known side-effects (and frequency of consumption) of current antidepressant drugs like SSRIs?” Ferriss writes on the crowdfunding page. “This study could help establish an alternative.”
The new Hopkins research would look at six patients who have not responded to conventional depression treatments. In addition to studying how effective the psilocybin is at relieving symptoms, researchers also plan to use MRI technology to gain a better understanding of how the substance affects the brain. If the results are positive, the team would then move to conduct a larger clinical trial.
Ferriss has been outspoken about the benefits of psychedelics and how they have helped him in his own journey. During an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit last year, he spoke about his struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, and mentioned that he has taken psilocybin for therapeutic purposes. “I’m looking for therapeutic versus mystical at the moment, as I want to try and port my experience over to broader discussions of treating vets with PTSD, etc,” he wrote. “These substances are powerful, and I don’t consider myself a recreational user. I treat them as if I were going into brain surgery, and that’s effectively what you’re doing.”
Ferriss has also addressed the use of psychedelics on his podcast. In one episode, called Are Psychedelic Drugs the Next Medical Breakthrough?, he interviewed doctors Martin Polanco and Dan Engle about how they use ibogaine, DMT, and other substances to complement addiction treatments and regenerative brain therapies. He also spoke with James Fadiman, author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, about using psychedelics for spiritual, therapeutic, and problem-solving purposes.
In other interviews, Ferriss has noted that the use of psychedelics is quite common, if rarely spoken of publicly, among many successful entrepreneurs who use the substances to help come up with new questions, answers, and ideas about their businesses and the world at large.
However, psilocybin is currently classified as a Schedule I narcotic in the United States, strictly prohibited by the federal government, so there is no legal way to use it for any purpose, be it therapeutic, professional or recreational. Research of the kind being conducted at Johns Hopkins could help one day make the medicine legally available to the people who need it most. To learn more about the proposed research or to help support the study, visit Tim Ferriss’ crowdfunding page here: Crowdrise.com/timferriss