- Cancer patients given the hallucinogen in so-called “magic mushrooms” experienced long-term relief from anxiety and depression, according to two studies published Thursday in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
- The studies — one from New York University School of Medicine and the other from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine — showed that a single dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, provided immediate positive effects lasting up to six months without serious adverse effects.
- Patients receiving psilocybin reported improved quality of life, optimism, and greater acceptance of the prospect of death.
“This pharmacological finding is novel in psychiatry in terms of a single dose of a medication leading to immediate anti-depressant and anxiolytic effects with enduring (e.g. weeks to months) clinical benefits,” writes Stephen Ross, who led the NYU research team.
He added that psilocybin, in conjunction with psychotherapy, could offer a novel treatment option for cancer-related depression and distress. Cancer patients are typically treated for depression with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac and Celexa, which aren’t terribly effective and take longer to work, Ross told Stat News. They also can have major side effects.
Psilocybin is listed as a Schedule 1 drug under the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and its use is illegal in the U.S. However, unlike the hallucinogen LSD, which was also banned in the 1970s, psilocybin rarely produces “bad” trips, and it shows a clear dose-effect relationship, writes David Nutt, with Imperial College London, UK, in an accompanying article. He notes that the pharmaceutical company Sandoz, which is now part of Novartis, studied the benefits of the compound in the 1950s and 1960s.
A number of prominent commentators in the field of psychiatry also weighed in on the research. “They all essentially say the same thing: it’s time to take psychedelic treatments in psychiatry and oncology seriously, as we did in the 1950s and 1960s, which means we need to go back to the future,” Nutt wrote.