Psychedelic ‘Shamanic’ Drug Being Trialled As Potential Cure For Depression

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 15 Mar 2021 18:01
Psychedelic 'Shamanic' Drug Being Trialled As Potential Cure For DepressionPexels/United Artists

A hallucinogenic drug is being trialled for the first time as a potential cure for depression.

Dubbed ‘psychedelic therapy’, the drug being trialled is known for its part in shamanic rituals. Shamanism is a religious practice historically associated with indigenous and tribal societies.


The trial hopes to find an alternative solution for depression sufferers who don’t respond to typical antidepressants issued by doctors.

The substance, known as N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), is being offered to a group of people with moderate to severe cases of depression, Yahoo! News reports. The treatment will then be followed with talking therapy.

Psychedelic Therapy Could Reset Depressed BrainPixabay

It’s hoped the trial will outline whether the compound can be given as a one-off treatment or as part of a course. Those taking part will be followed for at least six months to track the benefits.


Carol Routledge, the chief scientific officer of Small Pharma, the pharmaceutical company behind the trial, believes the combination of the two treatments could be hugely beneficial.

She told BBC News, ‘We believe the impact will be almost immediate, and longer lasting than conventional antidepressants.’

DMT is often referred to as a ‘spirit molecule’ thanks to its ability to alter human consciousness and produce hallucinations, which are sometimes compared to near-death experiences. It ‘loosens’ the brain’s pathways, which can then be ‘reset’ through talking therapy.

Routledge compared the drug to ‘shaking a snow globe,’ as DMT will loosen negative thought patterns. Talking therapy then allows these patterns to be resettled into a different form.


While this theory is yet to be proven, according to Small Pharma, the health benefits of pure DMT were first discovered in 1956 after a Hungarian chemist administered the drug to 30 volunteers. It was later issued to schizophrenic patients in 1958 as part of a research trial into DMT being a therapeutic agent for psychosis.

The most recent study was from 2018 to 2019, in which the correlation between brain activity, subjective affects and plasma concentration of DMT was investigated.

The pharmaceutical company stated on its site that DMT psychedelic effects only last ‘for approximately 20 minutes,’ which gives it a ‘practical clinical applicability’.


Unlike other hallucinogens, Small Pharma also insists that a tolerance to the psychological effects of DMT does not build up and the drug has a ‘good safety profile’.

It’s unknown what stage Small Pharma’s current DMT trial is at.

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: Health, depression, Mental Health, Trial


Yahoo! News and 1 other
  1. Yahoo! News

    Hallucinogenic drug trialled as depression treatment to 'reset' the brain

  2. BBC

    Psychedelic therapy could 'reset' depressed brain