They say they found it during a guided magic mushroom trip.
“I saw these gargoyles, horrible things,” Mr Hunt says over mushroom coffee – not the magic variety – at their sprawling Edwardian home in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern.
“And I just walked toward them and they disappeared. What an amazing lesson for someone.”
“I don’t even drink alcohol, I’ve never smoked in my life,” Ms de Jong adds. “It was the best experience of our lives.”
A trial into synthetic psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – has now been funded and will begin in April.
Another family member died a few years ago after suffering from severe depression and alcoholism.
“Her life would have been so much different, frankly, if she’d had access to this sort of therapy,” Mr Hunt says.
That belief is based on the data from early-stage studies, which have reported very promising results treating depression, anxiety and PTSD.
We’re still trying to understand just what the compound does to the brain, but there seem to be two major effects, says Dr Paul Liknaitzky, a psychology researcher at Deakin University and one of Mind Medicine’s scientific advisers.
First, the drug seems to reduce activity in what’s known as the ‘default mode network’. This is the ‘resting state’ of the brain, when our mind wanders and we tend to think about ourselves.
In depression, the default mode network seems to become hyperactive and people get ‘stuck’ thinking the same negative thoughts about themselves, Dr Liknaitzky says.
Psilocybin also boosts interconnectivity – regions of the brain that are usually strangers suddenly start talking to each other.
Studies from Johns Hopkins University and New York University report significant results; in one, more than 80 per cent of cancer patients reported the therapy increased their wellbeing or life-satisfaction.
In Europe and America, major trials are underway including one for treatment-resistant depression. Yet Australian scientists have done comparatively little research on psychedelics. Those who are interested sometimes accuse their colleagues of being reluctant to consider their therapeutic potential.
Others are a little more sceptical.
“The data so far is looking quite promising. But lots of things fail at phase three clinical trials,” says Assistant Professor Gill Bedi, a psychedelics researcher at the University of Melbourne.
“And perhaps the data is so promising because the people who end up taking part in the clinical trials are the people who really believe it’s going to work for them – and the researchers who do it really believe it’s going to work.”
Liam is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s science reporter
Chloe Booker is a reporter at The Age.