Effectiveness of St John's wort in major depression: A randomized controlled trial

Richard C. Shelton, Martin B. Keller, Allan Gelenberg, David L. Dunner, Robert Hirschfeld, Michael E. Thase, James Russell, R. Bruce Lydiard, Paul Crits-Christoph, Robert Gallop, Linda Todd, David Hellerstein, Paul Goodnick, Gabor Keitner, Stephen M. Stahl, Uriel Halbreich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

364 Scopus citations


Context Extracts of St John's wort are widely used to treat depression. Although more than 2 dozen clinical trials have been conducted with St John's wort, most have significant flaws in design and do not enable meaningful interpretation. Objective To compare the efficacy and safety of a standardized extract of St John's wort with placebo in outpatients with major depression. Design and Setting Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial conducted between November 1998 and January 2000 in 11 academic medical centers in the United States. Participants Two hundred adult outpatients (mean age, 42.4 years; 67.0% female; 85.9% white) diagnosed as having major depression and having a baseline Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) score of at least 20. Intervention Participants completed a 1-week, single-blind run-in of placebo, then were randomly assigned to receive either St John's wort extract (n = 98; 900 mg/d for 4 weeks, increased to 1200 mg/d in the absence of an adequate response thereafter) or placebo (n=102) for 8 weeks. Main Outcome Measures The primary outcome measure was rate of change on the HAM-D over the treatment period. Secondary measures included the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), Hamilton Rating Scale for Anxiety (HAM-A), the Global Assessment of Function (GAF) scale, and the Clinical Global Impression-Severity and -Improvement scales (CGI-S and CGI-I). Results The random coefficient analyses for the HAM-D, HAM-A, CGI-S, and CGI-I all showed significant effects for time but not for treatment or time-by-treatment interaction (for HAM-D scores, P<.001, P=.16, and P=.58, respectively). Analysis of covariance showed nonsignificant effects for BDI and GAF scores. The proportion of participants achieving an a priori definition of response did not differ between groups. The number reaching remission of illness was significantly higher with St John's wort than with placebo (P=.02), but the rates were very low in the full intention-to-treat analysis (14/98 [14.3 %] vs 5/102 [4.9%], respectively). St John's wort was safe and well tolerated. Headache was the only adverse event that occurred with greater frequency with St John's wort than placebo (39/95 [41%] vs 25/100 [25%], respectively). Conclusion In this study, St John's wort was not effective for treatment of major depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1978-1986
Number of pages9
JournalJAMA - Journal of the American Medical Association
Issue number15
StatePublished - Apr 18 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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