Psilocybin in magic mushrooms may help reduce depression and anxiety among cancer patients, finds study
A single dose of psilocybin, a compound found in "magic mushroom", might be able to lower symptoms of long-term depression and anxiety among cancer patients, a new study finds. The study participants continued to benefit from the compound for nearly five years after taking it. Further, about 60 to 80% of the participants in the study showed significant reductions in depression or anxiety and improvements in quality of life. Psilocybin may make psychological therapy more effective, say researchers.
However, the team cautions that psilocybin alone does not lead to positive therapeutic effects. "It should be taken in a controlled and psychologically safe setting, preferably with counseling from trained mental health practitioners or facilitators," says Agin-Liebes, from Palo Alto University in California, and one of the authors of the study.
These findings build on a 2016 study, which suggested that when a dose of psilocybin was combined with therapy, study participants with cancer had lesser anxiety and depression.
"Adding to evidence dating back as early as the 1950s, our findings strongly suggest that psilocybin therapy is a promising means of improving the emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being of patients with life-threatening cancer," says Dr. Stephen Ross, an associate professor of psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, and lead author of the 2016 study.
"This approach has the potential to produce a paradigm shift in the psychological and existential care of patients with cancer, especially those with a terminal illness," he adds.
Statistics state that nearly 40% of people around the world will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, a third of whom will anxiety, depression, and other forms of distress as a result. What is worse, conventional antidepressants do not work for less than half of cancer patients, say the authors of the study.
In the current study, scientists aimed to investigate whether these benefits last. So the team studied the long-term effects of the drug in a few participants from the 2016 trial. The team tested 15 participants, who agreed to be a part of the study, for changes in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, demoralization, and death anxiety assessments at two timepoints: about 3 years and 4.5 years following the first administration of the single-dose psilocybin.
The researchers report that these participants fared well and showed lesser symptoms of depression and anxiety. Participants overwhelmingly --71 to 100 % -- attributed their positive life changes to the psilocybin-assisted therapy experience. They also rated it among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives.
But the study has a few limitations, including the fact that the team tested these benefits in a small number of patients. The team now hopes to carry out a larger-study in patients from diverse socioeconomic and ethnic groups, who show advanced cancer-related psychiatric and existential distress.
The study has been published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.