Researching Psilocybin’s Effect on Depression with Dr. Rosalind Watts

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Clinical depression is a mental health crisis all across the world.

Photo by Ian Espinosa

And in all honesty, the primary way in which medical institutions and doctors have been educated to treat it, from the framework of biological psychiatry, is not very useful for many people and flat out ineffective for others. Additionally, the primary standard of care for depression, prescription of tricyclic antidepressants puts a person on a daily pharmaceutical regiment to reduce their depression symptoms.

Of course, antidepressants work for some people; they save lives and I support people harnessing the power for pharmaceutical science to regain agency over their mental health!

Yet, there is a massive subsection of people who report that the side effects of these medications — be it reduced libido, weight gain or a sense of emotional blunting — might be a good price to pay to not be in depression, but certainly not like a vibrant, healthy life. Also, again, some people get absolutely nothing from medications like SSRIs or SNRIs of MAOIs or whatever. What of these people?

My above commentary on the slippery efficacy of antidepressants is a broad brush stroke and doesn’t even begin to touch the nuances, and I acknowledge that. Yet I state it to bring a consideration into mind: what if there was a medicine that allowed people to restructure their inner world in a way that, afterward, their depression was gone and joy for life was present in its place, but without having to take that medication every day? And that this medicine works for people who otherwise found no help from traditional treatments? That would be fantastic, right? Well, it is fantastic, and it’s the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, psilocybin!

photo credit: Talakay Pakay (I have no affiliation to the credit link provided)
WAIT! Hold up.

Did you hear me tell you that magic mushrooms were the magic bullet to heal intractable depression? Sounds familiar, right? Well, it’s not true. 

Magic mushrooms/psilocybin is not a magic bullet, and it does not necessarily heal depression. The study of this treatment protocol presents outstanding, groundbreaking data showing people free of ‘treatment-resistant” depression after their psilocybin assisted psychotherapy sessions. However, it didn’t work at all for some people, and, for everybody, the depression eventually came back. (And for those whom it did not come back for a long time, there is reason to assume they went about finding underground psychedelic therapy or ceremony to bolster the longevity of their remission.)

That said, the results are still outstanding and offer much potential to medical science’s journey towards understanding and treating depression. But we need to be careful we don’t make blanket assumptions based on news headlines and hope. There is so, so much to investigate here; not only why psilocybin helped depression, why the depression came back, why some people got no benefit whatsoever, and, of course, how can the treatment be optimized for even better results. But also the nature of depression itself.

It is those curiosities and more that brings Dr. Rosalind Watts onto the show.

Dr. Rosalind Watts is a clinical psychologist and serves as the Clinical Lead of the Imperial College London Psilocybin for Depression study. Her qualitative research indicated ‘connectedness and acceptance’ as fundamental mechanisms of change in psilocybin therapy. She developed the Watts Connectedness Scale (WCS) and a therapeutic framework for conducting preparation and integration sessions in psychedelic therapy trials known as the ACE model (Accept, Connect, Embody). Rosalind has written about psychedelics as agents of connectedness and given several talks on the subject, including a popular TEDx talk.

She joins us on the show to help breakdown and better understand the nuances of the psilocybin for depression trials she leads at Imperial College London. We also talk about what her team’s research helped her understand about the nature of depression, the value of feeling into our emotional pain, and what makes the difference between those who’s lives turn out for the best and those who fall back into depression.

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episode breakdown

  • the current state of psilocybin for depression research at Imperial College London
  • exploring the results of their previous study of treating depression with psilocybin
  • when do the results fade?
  • why do some people have no effects when the take psilocybin
  • the visualization metaphor they use to help people prepare for their psilocybin session
  • how society pushes us to dissociate or emotions and the value of feeling our uncomfortable feelings
  • the value of safety during psychedelic therapy
  • “this is not just a brain reset; this is a journey.”
  • the positive potentials and problematic pitfalls of microdosing psilocybin
  • why the depression comes back after psilocybin treatment
  • it takes so much courage to do this thing
  • the value of grief and sorrow to heal your life
  • depression and self-forgiveness
  • how directive is psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy during the psilocybin session?
  • how psilocybin helps people heal depression
  • does psilocybin hold an innate healing intelligence?
  • the Accept, Connect, Embody (ACE) model for finding meaning through emotional journeying
  • how Watts’ team using the ACE model in their psilocybin for the treatment of depression study
  • experiential avoidance and its role in depression
  • meaning, what is it? is it found or made or both?

relevant links

Study with Dr. Rosalind Watts

Rosalind will be facilitating a weeklong workshop for healthcare professionals at the Cape Cod Institute June 22-26, 2020 entitled ‘Accept Connect Embody: A Psychedelic Therapy Framework’ MORE INFO HERE

Follow Rosalind Watts on Twitter

DISCUSS This Episode with other listeners on our subreddit!

Researching Psilocybin’s Effect on Depression | Dr. Rosalind Watts ~ ATTMind 112 from ATTMindPodcast



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***Featured image is a remix of a photo courtesy of Talakay Pakay (I have no affiliation to the credit link provided)

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