Getting high on a psychedelic drug extracted from “magic mushrooms” could help those who struggle with incurable depression, new research suggests.

Half of patients in a small pilot study of 12 people had reduced symptoms three months after taking psilocybin capsules.

While the study authors warn that it is too early to make strong conclusions about the use of the drug, it did show that more research was needed.

Lead author Dr Robin Carhart-Harris from Imperial College London said: “This is the first time that psilocybin has been investigated as a potential treatment for major depression.

“Treatment-resistant depression is common, disabling and extremely difficult to treat.

“New treatments are urgently needed, and our study shows that psilocybin is a promising area of future research.

MRI scan of patients who took magic mushroom treatment

The patients were given MRI scans after the treatment

“The results are encouraging and we now need larger trials to understand whether the effects we saw in this study translate into long-term benefits, and to study how psilocybin compares to other current treatments.”

The study involved carefully-selected patients with moderate or severe depression, all of whom had unsuccessfully tried other anti-depressant medications.

The psilocybin dose was the equivalent of taking several “magic mushrooms”, meaning the participants experienced a hallucinogenic effect as if it was being taken recreationally.

Two psychiatrists were with each patient as they were administered the drug.

The following day, each participant was given an MRI scan.

Professor David Nutt, who was sacked from his job as the Government’s chief drug advisor for claiming that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol, described the research as an “important breakthrough”.

Hallucinogenic 'magic' mushrooms

Taking the capsules is equivalent to eating several magic mushrooms

But he told HypeJudge, that regulations and red tape made the research expensive.

“It is extremely difficult to do this research because the regulatory hurdles treat psilocybin as a dangerous (substance),” he said.

The study’s co-author Amanda Feilding, director of The Beckley Foundation, said: “It is very exciting that our latest psilocybin study paves the way for a new treatment for depression.

“For the first time in many years, people who were at the end of the road with currently available treatments reported decreased anxiety, increased optimism and an ability to enjoy things.

“This is an unparalleled success and could revolutionise the treatment of depression.”

The study was published in the medical journal, The Lancet.