A British start-up is set to clinically trial how magic mushrooms, long-used by drug users to induce trippy hallucinations, can be used to treat severe depression.

According to The Times, the cutting-edge company, called Compass Pathways, will hold a trial featuring 400 participants to check if an active ingredient found in the mushrooms - psilocybin - can be embraced to form a "new approach to tackling mental health conditions."

"Based on previous trials, psilocybin provides an immediate and sustained relief from depression, instils a sense of wellbeing, and improves quality of life." said Ekaterina Malievskaia, co-founder and medical officer at the London company.

The trial will begin in the first quarter of 2018 at clinics in the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the UK.

The Times did not reveal if an exact timetable had been confirmed for the launch.

When it was first announced in late-2017, the firm said the trials would likely begin in the first three months of the year. According to Fortune, the start-up's work is part-funded by Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel - known for his background at Facebook and the dismantling of media site Gawker via legal action filed in the US.

Compass Pathways says that depression is the leading cause of ill-health and disability worldwide, and one of the fastest growing problems which affects more than 300 million people globally.

"Current treatments for depression work for many people but there is still a significant unmet need for a large number of patients living with this very challenging condition," George Goldsmith, executive chairman and co-founder of Compass Pathways said last year.

"Compass is making rapid progress with plans to develop psilocybin therapy for patients suffering with treatment-resistant depression. Several small, exploratory academic studies have already shown the promise of psychoactive medicine.

"We will [...] conduct the first ever large-scale randomised, controlled trials, covering 400 patients with treatment-resistant depression in eight countries," Goldsmith added.

magic mushrooms depression
Can magic mushrooms be used to treat depression? Istock