Psilocybin-assisted therapy may provide more cost-effective solution to treating major depression disorder

A new study by leading academics in the psychedelics space finds that psilocybin combined with therapy could be more cost-effective at treating major depression disorders than currently used methods.

The study, ‘Cost-effectiveness of psilocybin-assisted therapy for severe depression: exploratory findings from a decision analytic model’, published by Cambridge University Press, found that when psilocybin was costed at £1200 and combined with therapy from one therapist, the cost of treatment was £5239.

Psilocybin-based treatment was also found to provide stronger returns in terms of the quality of life of patients following treatment, with psilocybin’s treatment returning a QALY nearly 10% larger than the next most effective treatment, CBT.

The results come at a time when figures uncovered by the BBC found more than a quarter of patients on antidepressants in England – about two million people – have been taking them for five years. Eight million people in England are on antidepressants – a one million rise from five years previously.

The study has been authored by leading academics in the economics and psychedelics space, including Professor Paul McCrone of the University of Greenwich, sector-leading neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt, and Henry Fisher and Clare Knight, who both work for the innovative commercial clinical research organization Clerkenwell Health.

The findings from the study are the clearest evidence yet that the future of treatment for certain significant mental-health related illnesses will be found in psychedelics-related treatment combined with therapy. Clerkenwell Health are leading the UK industry’s work in this space, with a suite of trials set to launch in 2023 for conditions including PTSD, treatment-resistant depression and alcohol use disorder.

Clerkenwell have also been involved in the development of trials where therapy is provided by a single therapist, rather than previous research which has used two therapists per person as standard. Clerkenwell believe that one therapist – with support mechanisms in place – can provide treatment that is as high-quality as previous studies where two therapists were present.

The company is now working on designing and delivering several trials around testing the use of psychedelics such as psilocybin to treat conditions including depression and PTSD and is actively recruiting patients.

Dr Henry Fisher, Chief Scientific Officer at Clerkenwell Health, said: “With rising numbers of people in the UK prescribed anti-depressants and increasing chronic use, it’s clear the need for innovative treatments for depression has never been more pressing. Our research finds that there is great potential for psilocybin to be a cost-effective therapy for severe depression – with higher quality impacts for the individuals and society.

“We’re calling on health professionals and policymakers to seriously consider these findings which suggest psilocybin could be genuinely ground-breaking for the NHS and for the millions of people being treated for depression in the UK.”

While this is a relatively expensive treatment option, the improved outcomes that seem to be achieved may justify this extra cost especially as there are few treatment options for those with the hardest to treat forms of depression. More research is needed, especially on the level of therapist support that is required, but this is an interesting therapy and could well be positioned alongside more conventional treatments.”

Paul McCrone, Professor, Healthcare Economics, University of Greenwich

Professor David Nutt, Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, said: “Drug Science is very happy to have contributed our expertise to this important study. In light of the current unmet mental health needs, new treatments are urgently required. Our studies at Imperial College London (as well as research globally) indicate psilocybin to be an effective treatment for severe depression. The current study now shows that psilocybin also has the potential to be a cost-effective therapy for this condition. This of course is vital in order to progress psilocybin assisted therapy as viable treatment in public healthcare.”

Our initial health economics analysis of psilocybin assisted therapy for depression is an important step in enabling patient access via the NHS in the UK.”

Joanne Neill, Professor, Psychopharmacology, University of Manchester

The cost of depression in the UK is significant – studies in recent years, including one by the London School of Economics, estimated that the cost to the UK economy is at least £118 billion a year.

Journal reference:

McCrone, P., et al. (2023) Cost-effectiveness of psilocybin-assisted therapy for severe depression: exploratory findings from a decision analytic model. Psychological Medicine.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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