News round-up (10 May 2024)

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10th May 2024 about a 6 minute read

We have two stories this week about psychedelics and mental health. A new study shows that there is some evidence that psilocybin, a compound found in magic mushrooms, may be effective in treating depression. Meanwhile, the US regulator is considering whether to approve an application for the use of MDMA in treating PTSD. A separate study shows an interesting potential connection between the make-up of the gut microbiome and mental illness, indicating that people with depression or anorexia have different gut microbiota from those without.


Main stories from the week

Medicines agency sets out its approach to AI

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has set out its strategic approach to artificial intelligence (AI), with the aim both of protecting patient safety and enabling industry to innovate. 


Virtual reality could be effective in treating depression, study finds

Virtual reality (VR) shows promise as a treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD), according to the findings of a new study.


Black mothers twice as likely to be hospitalised with perinatal mental illness

Black mothers are twice as likely as white mothers to be admitted to hospital with perinatal mental illnesses, NHS data shows.


And other stories from the week…

Psilocybin may help treat depression 

Psilocybin, a compound found in magic mushrooms, might also be effective in treating depression, according to a new review of research published in the BMJ.

The researchers looked at seven trials, including 436 participants with depression. After analysing changes in depression scores, they found that psilocybin had a large effect size, meaning that it had a strong positive effect on depression symptoms when compared with the control groups. The researchers found that psilocybin appears to reduce symptoms after only one or two doses. They also found that certain factors were associated with larger improvements in depression scores. These included: having depression secondary to another health condition, being assessed using a self-reported scale, being older, and having previously used psychedelics.


MDMA-based mental health treatment seeking approval from FDA
A treatment that uses the drug MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder is seeking approval from the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), the US regulator.

The treatment from Lykos Therapeutics is set to be reviewed by an FDA advisory committee next month, which would vote on whether the treatment should be approved. The FDA’s decision to convene a panel of outside experts to review the application shows that the regulator is taking a very cautious approach to approving the drug. That caution has implications for other biotech companies currently conducting late-stage trials into psychedelic-based treatments for mental health problems. Lykos’ second late-stage study into using MDMA to treat PTSD, during which patients take MDMA while receiving psychotherapy, found that 71% of people in the MDMA group improved sufficiently to no longer meet the criteria for PTSD diagnosis, compared with 48% in the placebo group.


New link discovered between depression, anorexia, and gut microbiota

People with major depressive disorder (MDD) and anorexia show distinct patterns in their gut microbiota compared to healthy individuals.

The researchers found that a specific gut bacterium called Blautia was more prevalent in patients with both conditions, and correlated with inflammation and symptom severity. The study was conducted at the First Hospital of Shanxi Medical University, using 92 participants, carefully selected based on criteria such as age, sex, body mass index, and education level. Half of the participants had diagnosed depression and the other half acted as a control group. Using fecal samples to analyse gut microbiota, the researchers found that MDD patients with anorexia had a significantly different microbial makeup compared to both healthy controls and MDD patients without anorexia. The diversity of gut microbiota was generally lower in those with both conditions compared to healthy controls. This suggests that reduced microbial diversity could be a contributing factor to the severity


Digital mental health technologies should be used as part of a wider package, report says

Digital mental health technologies (DMHTs) have the potential to make a valuable contribution to the management of health, but should be used as part of a wider treatment package, a report has found.

The report, jointly published by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), said that DMHTs should be used alongside regular therapy sessions and/or regularly reviewed, prescribed medication. The report represents the conclusion of the first stage of a three-year project, which began in 2023, to formulate guidance and other sources of information for developers, healthcare professionals, patients and the public to clarify the regulatory and evaluation requirements for DMHTs. The aim is to assess DMHTs in a risk-proportionate and consistent manner, enabling access to safe and effective products to improve outcomes for people with mental health conditions.


Cognitive flexibility impaired in Generalized Anxiety Disorder, study finds

People with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) display difficulties with cognitive flexibility and show a heightened ability to recognise negative emotions such as disgust and anger, a study has found.

The study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric research, recruited 263 participants in France. All underwent a detailed assessment process including completing the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) questionnaire—a self-report tool designed to screen for and assess the severity of GAD. Participants also undertook the Trail-Making Test (TMT), which requires alternating between numbers and letters to assess cognitive flexibility. People with GAD took considerably longer to complete the TMT-B section of the test compared to those without the disorder. Participants also took the Facial Emotion Recognition Test. Those with GAD were quicker to recognise negative emotions, which accords with the heightened sensitivity to threat that is typically associated with anxiety disorders.


Right Care, Right Person policy putting lives at risk, charities say

Charities have criticised the Metropolitan Police’s adoption of the Right Care, Right Person policy, saying it could endanger lives.

The scheme, introduced six months ago, means that the police now refuse to answer emergency mental health call-outs, instead passing the responsibility for responding to the NHS. While the Metropolitan Police say their officers can now spend more time at crime scenes, both Mind and Rethink Mental Illness have expressed concerns about the policy, with the latter calling for a pause on Right Care, Right Person, saying it is putting lives at risk. Mind has said that rollout across the country has been patchy, “with some areas delivering well-integrated support while other areas are struggling. Failing to properly fund NHS mental health crisis services while instructing police forces to step back from mental health calls is an unsafe and frankly irresponsible decision.”