Brain and Body

One Dose of Psychedelic Mushroom Ingredient Relieves Depression in Advanced Cancer Patients

December 2, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Photo credit: NYU Langone Medical Center

Feelings of spirituality and peacefulness lasted for more than six months after the psychedelic experience.

According to the results of a clinical trial led by a team of scientists at NYU Langone Medical Center, a combination of psychological counseling and a single dose of psilocybin — the hallucinogenic compound in psychedelic mushrooms — significantly reduces the depression and anxiety experienced by advanced cancer patients.

"Our results represent the strongest evidence to date of a clinical benefit from psilocybin therapy, with the potential to transform care for patients with cancer-related psychological distress," study lead investigator Stephen Ross, director of substance abuse services in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU, said in a press statement.

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With a study sample of 29 cancer patients, half were randomly assigned to receive a small dose of psilocybin (0.3 milligrams per kilogram), while the others were given a vitamin placebo, niacin, which produces a “rush” similar to a psychedelic drug experience.

Then, at the halfway point of the study (seven weeks), the participants switched treatments. None of the patients knew whether they had first been given the psilocybin or the placebo, which maximizes the validity of the study results.

The patients reported a number of improvements in their quality of life after taking the psychedelic mushroom compound: higher energy levels, performing well at work, going out more, and better relationships with family members. Further, many of the participants reported increased feelings of spirituality, peacefulness, and altruism.

"Our study showed that psilocybin facilitated experiences that drove reductions in psychological distress," says co-investigator Anthony Bossis. "And if it's true for cancer care, then it could apply to other stressful medical conditions."

Previous studies have similarly shown that psilocybin can help alleviate anxiety and depression in cancer patients, and other research has found the hallucinatory compound could help smokers quit.

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What’s more, these positive effects on mental wellbeing are long-lasting — the benefits lasted for more than six months for 80 percent of the subjects.

Although the science looks promising, the researchers advise against indulging in psychedelic mushrooms without medical supervision. "Psilocybin therapy may not work for everyone, and some groups, such as people with schizophrenia, as well as adolescents, should not be treated with it,” Bossis concludes.

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