Effects of discontinuation of serotonergic antidepressants prior to psilocybin therapy versus escitalopram for major depression

J Psychopharmacol. 2024 May;38(5):458-470. doi: 10.1177/02698811241237870. Epub 2024 Mar 22.


Background: There is growing evidence for the therapeutic effects of the psychedelic drug psilocybin for major depression. However, due to the lack of safety data on combining psilocybin with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and concerns that there may be a negative interaction on efficacy, participants enrolling in psychedelic trials are usually required to discontinue SNRI/SNRIs prior to enrolling.

Aims: Using data from a recent clinical trial examining the comparative efficacy the psychedelic drug psilocybin (P) combined with approximately 20 h of psychological support to a 6-week (daily) course of the SSRI escitalopram plus matched psychological support for major depressive disorder, we explored the effects of discontinuing SSRI/SNRIs prior to study enrolment on study outcomes.

Methods: Exploratory post hoc analyses using linear mixed effects model were performed to investigate the discontinuation effect on various validated depression symptom severity scales and well-being. The impact of SSRI/SNRIs discontinuation on the acute psychedelic experience was also explored.

Results/outcomes: In the psilocybin group, there was a reduced treatment effect on all outcome measures for SSRI/SNRIs discontinuers compared with unmedicated patients at trial entry. However, no effects of discontinuation on measures of the acute psychedelic experience were found.

Conclusion: Discontinuation of SSRI/SNRIs before psilocybin might diminish response to treatment; however, as we did not test SSRI/SNRI continuation in our trial, we cannot infer such causation. Moreover, the exploratory nature of the analyses makes them hypothesis generating, and not confirmatory. A controlled trial of SSRI/SNRI discontinuation versus continuation prior to psilocybin is urgently required.

Keywords: Depression; SSRI; escitalopram; psilocyibin; psychiatry.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / drug therapy
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Escitalopram* / administration & dosage
  • Escitalopram* / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Hallucinogens* / administration & dosage
  • Hallucinogens* / adverse effects
  • Hallucinogens* / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psilocybin* / administration & dosage
  • Psilocybin* / adverse effects
  • Psilocybin* / pharmacology
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors* / administration & dosage
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors* / adverse effects
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors* / pharmacology
  • Treatment Outcome