Research Findings Promising as Scientists Study Placebo Effect in Psychedelic Treatment

Recent research assessed how patient expectations influenced the outcomes of psychedelic treatments in comparison to conventional treatments. This comes as the global impact of depression is being felt in different parts of the world and the need for alternative treatments increases.

For a long time, selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been prescribed to manage depression. While these drugs do perform better than placebos, they aren’t effective for all individuals.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy has been heralded as a new approach to manage mental-health conditions such as depression, promising a range of benefits with only a few sessions. However, some questions on how expectations may contribute to positive outcomes observed in trials have been raised.

In recent research, researchers theorize that an individual’s expectations about a therapy’s outcome may influence the actual outcome. This is part of the placebo effect, where belief in a treatment’s effectiveness can cause actual improvements in symptoms regardless of whether an active therapeutic ingredient is active and present in the treatment. For their research, the scientists compared the use of psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound found in some species of magic mushrooms, and escitalopram, a commonly prescribed antidepressant.

The researchers used blinding, a method used in trials to reduce biases. It works by ensuring that neither the scientists nor the participants know who is getting a placebo and who is receiving the actual treatment. The scientists conducted an analysis of data gathered during a double-blind trial that included 55 people who suffered from moderate to severe major depressive disorder. The participants were either given a placebo or psilocybin during the study period.

The researchers also evaluated traits such as absorption and suggestibility at baseline using the Modified Tellegen Absorption Scale and the Short Suggestibility Scale respectively.

To measure their expectations regarding the effectiveness of each treatment, the participants were asked to rate their anticipated improvement in their health. Generally, the participants were more optimistic about the outcome of psilocybin therapy in comparison to the other treatment.

Balázs Szigeti, the study’s first author and a data scientist at the Translational Psychedelic Research Program at UCSF, explained that the study found evidence that unblinding effects and expectancy were possible drivers of positive outcomes. In their report, however, the researchers noted that they observed no significant association between expectations and actual responses to psychedelic therapy. They also highlighted that people who were more receptive to the idea of psychedelic therapy could experience greater benefit from it.

The research’s findings were reported in the “Psychological Medicine” journal.

As it becomes clearer that the placebo effect isn’t having an undue influence on psychedelic research, the outcomes of the R&D programs of start-ups such as Seelos Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: SEEL) will win over sceptics who were in doubt regarding the medicinal potential of psychedelic compounds.

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