DepressionDigital HealthPsychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy

Psilocybin availability in the UK

When will psilocybin be available a legal medicine, available on prescription in the UK.
When will psilocybin be legally available in the UK?

It is no secret in the medical sector, that evidence for the efficacy of traditional antidepressants (SSRIs, SNRIs, NASSAs…) is underwhelming. In 2018, the largest ever meta-analysis concluded that the majority of their effect, if any, can be attributed to placebo¹. That being said, the clinical rationale for taking them is still sound, as prescribing them is thought to offer a harm reduction strategy, enabling the sufferer to seek additional therapy to address underlying causes of the disease. This therapy often takes the form of psychotherapy, however, due to high private costs and the chronically underfunded NHS, it is often difficult for the general public to break out of limbo and fix the root cause of their condition.


How to pronounce “psilocybin”:

Is there an alternative route?

If “Best Practice” care is being followed, something like the NICE CKS guidance on depression should have been carried out. This pathway includes the most up to date, proven science on the topic. The starting point will always a non-drug approach, this includes:

  1. Eat a healthy diet – supplementation of Vitamin D3 / Omega, ↓ intake of alcohol.
  2. Getting enough sunlight – exercise outside as below can bolster Vitamin D3 as above.
  3. Exercising regularly – 3+ times a week get heart rate above resting and maintain.
  4. Sleeping well – by increasing exposure to sunlight you can reset your Circadian Rhythm whilst exercise will help you sleep.
  5. Not overstimulating – anti rumination, reduce caffeine intake do more mindfulness and meditation.
  6. Accessing talking therapy – self-therapy, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, increase social contact.

Once these factors have been exhausted, the second stage is to take a medicine, which usually starts with an SSRI such as citalopram or fluoxetine. If this initiation fails (after 6-12 months), there is usually a “switching or augmenting” to different medicines. This can only go so far as there are a limited amount of treatment options. When an inadequate response to at least two antidepressants has been tried this is referred to as Treatment-Resistant Depression (TRD). TRD is a relatively common occurrence in clinical practice, with up to 50% to 60% of the patients not achieving adequate response following antidepressant treatment. In the UK alone, 2.7 million people have treatment-resistant depression which accounts for 10% and 30% of all people with depression².

So what else can be done to treat TRD?

Psilocybin and its prodrug.
Figure.1 Psilocybin (1) and its prodrug Psilocin (2)

There are treatments that have been used in mainstream medicine for almost half a century that have proven clinical safety profiles and high relative efficacy for the treatment of TRD. One of the most common, esketamine, has been discussed at length on this blog in another article, another option which is the subject of this article is the mushroom derived molecule, psilocybin.


How to pronounce “Psilocybin”

Psilocybin / Indocybin Sandoz Medicine
Inodcybin (the brand name for psilocybin made by Sandoz in the 1960s)

A short history of Psilocybin as a Medicine.

In the 1960s psilocybin was marketed as a medicine by Sandoz (now Novartis) as a “catalyst” for people with treatment-resistant depression. In a systematic review of clinical trials, Rucker³ showed that approximately 80% of patients who are given psilocybin show clinical improvement.

In 1970, in response to a UN convention in 1971, psilocybin was made a schedule 1 drug in the UK, making it nearly impossible to use in clinical trials. The evidence that placed psilocybin into schedule 1 widely seen in the scientific community as flimsy⁴.

Fast track to today and the government’s opinion is now shifting making it possible for clinicians to study psilocybin in the same way as all potential new medicines. A recent Imperial study published the following inclusion and exclusion criteria for a new study on the medicine:

Inclusion criteria:

  • Aged between 18-65
  • Currently suffering from moderate to severe depression. Mild depression or historical depression are not being looked at in this study
  • Willing to take two doses of psilocybin and a six-week course of Escitalopram

Patients, they would exclude from treatment include:

  • You have a diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable (Borderline) personality disorder
  • You have a personal or immediate family history of psychosis (drug-induced psychosis, Schizophrenia, Bipolar). Bipolar disorder is not being looked at in this study
  • You are currently addicted to alcohol or any illicit drugs
  • You have taken a full course of Escitalopram in the past (please note that there is a similar medication called Citalopram which is fine to have taken
  • You have epilepsy or any serious heart conditions

This criterion is interesting because it indicates what the prescribing requirements may be when a legal psilocybin medicine is launched. However, as of 1st March 2021, psilocybin is still illegal in the UK, the drug belongs to the Class A substance category alongside heroin and cocaine.

When will psilocybin be legally available in the UK?

Psilocybin relative harm to alcohol.
Relatively, psilocybin does little harm. This is a key argument in the legalisation arguement.

Unfortunately, unlike esketamine, psilocybin has yet to become a licensed product in the UK (so that it can be prescribed) as it is still criminalised. Decriminalisation is occurring slowly around the world, notably in the State of Oregon in the US. Within the UK, this has been said to be at least 2-3 years away. If you would like to help in the movement to decriminalise psilocybin here is a simple argument for decriminalization and here is a template you can use to send to your MP expressing your support for the cause.

Health Tourism

Health Tourism” is a term used when someone wants to source medical treatment from a country other than where they reside. The most common destinations for general medical conditions include Canada, Singapore and the UK. Health Tourism usually occurs where the country of origin has a high cost associated with healthcare and the destination has a lower cost.

Similarily for psilocybin treatment, health tourism is burgeoning. Instead of travelling to avoid high costs, patients are migrating to avoid criminal prosecution. Some countries including the Bahamas, Jamaica, Samoa and the aforementioned US State, Oregon, either never classified magic mushrooms as illegal or have been through the decriminalisation process.

The legality of psilocybin / magic mushrooms around the world.

So flying to these countries and receiving treatment avoids any prosecution action for the originating country. The main issue with this is that the standards of care in the treatment country may not be as regulated as a treatment in the UK. Below is a list of attributes you should check before accessing treatment:

  • On-site medical team, in case of any medical emergencies.
  • Regulated by the national authority with a recent inspection report.
  • Third-party, impartial patient feedback submission system.
  • Quality Management System.

If you would like our medical team to review the Medical Tourism destination based on their regulation and safety please get in touch with our team.

References

¹Network meta-analysis of antidepressants, published in The Lancet on September 22, 2018, accessed on 23rd February 2021 via: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31783-5/fulltext

² Treatment-resistant depression: what are the options. BMJ 2018; 363 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k5354 (Published 18 December 2018) BMJ 2018;363:k5354

³ Rucker JJ, Jelen LA, Flynn S, Frowde KD, Young AH. Psychedelics in the treatment of unipolar mood disorders: a systematic review. J Psychopharmacol 2016;30:1220-9.27856684

⁴Hawkes N. Sixty seconds on . . . psilocybin. BMJ 2016;353:i2775. 10.1136/bmj.i2775 27194646

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/magic-mushroom-depression-psilocybin-trials-kcl-mental-health-addiction-a9251451.html