Psilocybin with psychological support improves emotional face recognition in treatment-resistant depression

J. B. Stroud, T. P. Freeman, R. Leech, C. Hindocha, W. Lawn, D. J. Nutt, H. V. Curran, R. L. Carhart-Harris

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42 Citations (Scopus)
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RATIONALE: Depressed patients robustly exhibit affective biases in emotional processing which are altered by SSRIs and predict clinical outcome.

OBJECTIVES: The objective of this study is to investigate whether psilocybin, recently shown to rapidly improve mood in treatment-resistant depression (TRD), alters patients' emotional processing biases.

METHODS: Seventeen patients with treatment-resistant depression completed a dynamic emotional face recognition task at baseline and 1 month later after two doses of psilocybin with psychological support. Sixteen controls completed the emotional recognition task over the same time frame but did not receive psilocybin.

RESULTS: We found evidence for a group × time interaction on speed of emotion recognition (p = .035). At baseline, patients were slower at recognising facial emotions compared with controls (p < .001). After psilocybin, this difference was remediated (p = .208). Emotion recognition was faster at follow-up compared with baseline in patients (p = .004, d = .876) but not controls (p = .263, d = .302). In patients, this change was significantly correlated with a reduction in anhedonia over the same time period (r = .640, p = .010).

CONCLUSIONS: Psilocybin with psychological support appears to improve processing of emotional faces in treatment-resistant depression, and this correlates with reduced anhedonia. Placebo-controlled studies are warranted to follow up these preliminary findings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)459-466
Issue number2
Early online date30 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


  • Psilocybin
  • Emotional face recognition
  • Treatment-resistant depression
  • Anhedonia


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