Context: Extracts of St John's wort are widely used to treat depression. Although more than 2 dozen clinical trials have been conducted with St John's wort, most have significant flaws in design and do not enable meaningful interpretation.
Objective: To compare the efficacy and safety of a standardized extract of St John's wort with placebo in outpatients with major depression.
Design and setting: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial conducted between November 1998 and January 2000 in 11 academic medical centers in the United States.
Participants: Two hundred adult outpatients (mean age, 42.4 years; 67.0% female; 85.9% white) diagnosed as having major depression and having a baseline Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) score of at least 20.
Intervention: Participants completed a 1-week, single-blind run-in of placebo, then were randomly assigned to receive either St John's wort extract (n = 98; 900 mg/d for 4 weeks, increased to 1200 mg/d in the absence of an adequate response thereafter) or placebo (n = 102) for 8 weeks.
Main outcome measures: The primary outcome measure was rate of change on the HAM-D over the treatment period. Secondary measures included the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), Hamilton Rating Scale for Anxiety (HAM-A), the Global Assessment of Function (GAF) scale, and the Clinical Global Impression-Severity and -Improvement scales (CGI-S and CGI-I).
Results: The random coefficient analyses for the HAM-D, HAM-A, CGI-S, and CGI-I all showed significant effects for time but not for treatment or time-by-treatment interaction (for HAM-D scores, P<.001, P =.16, and P =.58, respectively). Analysis of covariance showed nonsignificant effects for BDI and GAF scores. The proportion of participants achieving an a priori definition of response did not differ between groups. The number reaching remission of illness was significantly higher with St John's wort than with placebo (P =.02), but the rates were very low in the full intention-to-treat analysis (14/98 [14.3%] vs 5/102 [4.9%], respectively). St John's wort was safe and well tolerated. Headache was the only adverse event that occurred with greater frequency with St John's wort than placebo (39/95 [41%] vs 25/100 [25%], respectively).
Conclusion: In this study, St John's wort was not effective for treatment of major depression.