updated 12/20/2006 8:18:26 PM ET 2006-12-21T01:18:26

A preliminary study of the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms has found it is effective in relieving the symptoms of people suffering from severe obsessive compulsive disorder, a University of Arizona psychiatrist reports.

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Dr. Francisco A. Moreno led the first FDA-approved clinical study of psilocybin since it was outlawed in 1970. The results of the small-scale study are published in the latest edition of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Moreno said the study's intent was only to test the safety of administering psilocybin to patients, and its effectiveness is still in doubt until a larger controlled study can be conducted.

But in each of the nine patients in the study, psilocybin completely removed symptoms of the disorder for a period of about four to 24 hours, with some remaining symptom-free for days, Moreno said.

"What we saw acutely was a drastic decrease in symptoms," Moreno said. "The obsessions would really dissolve or reduce drastically for a period of time."

Best known among the drug culture as magic mushrooms, the hallucinogenic fungus remains a popular illicit drug. Although banned by Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, research into medical uses is allowed.

The new research does not reflect any change in government policy, said Rogene Waite, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

No other treatment eases symptoms faster
Currently, there is no treatment that eases symptoms of the disorder as fast as psilocybin appears to, Moreno said. Other drugs take several weeks to show an effect, but the psilocybin was almost immediate.

The drug is not one that could be taken daily, Moreno said, and many questions remain about its use, including if it would be addictive or if patients would develop a tolerance to the drug.

Moreno hopes to conduct an expanded study that could offer more convincing evidence of its effectiveness.

"We're very cautious about making too much of the early results," Moreno said. "I don't want to characterize it as psychedelics are the way to go. Although it seemed to be safe, this was done in the context of supervision by trained professionals in a medical setting. This is not ready to be used by the public just because nine people tolerated it."

Symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder typically develop in the teen years and can make it difficult hard for patients to lead normal, day-to-day lives.

The nine patients in the study had a range of compulsions, including fear of being contaminated, elaborate cleaning rituals, tapping or touching rituals and mental rituals. One patient wouldn't touch the floor with anything but the soles of his shoes. Others would shower for hours or put on pants over and over again until they felt right.

"They know it's senseless. They know it doesn't do anything for them, but if they don't do it they become very distraught and very uncomfortable and have a very difficult time functioning," Moreno said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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