HowHigh Center. How a Single Dose of a Psychedelic Drug Can Help People with Cancer Ease Depression, Anxiety

Researchers say a single dose of psilocybin helped ease fears and depression for years in people treated for cancer. 
  • Researchers report a single dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms,” can help people receiving cancer treatment.
  • The researchers said the psychedelic drug helped a majority of study participants for more than 4 years to ease depression and anxiety.
  • Experts say the fear associated with cancer treatment can cause a number of health issues, including loss of sleep.

A one-time dose of a psychedelic medication could lead to substantial improvements in distress, depression, and anxiety in people receiving cancer treatment.

Researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine said in a study published this week that they found a single dose of the drug psilocybin combined with psychotherapy produced immediate improvements in anxiety and depression in people with cancer.

Participants in the study who took the drug showed decreases in cancer-related feelings of hopelessness and demoralization, the researchers reported.

Between 60 and 80 percent of participants were still experiencing antidepressant benefits more than 4 years after taking a single dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms.”

“It is nearly unprecedented in psychiatry that a medication taken one time would potentially lead to enduring outcomes years later. Traditional psychotropic medications depend on the persistent presence of the medication in the body. Psychedelics like psilocybin appear to initiate a deeply meaningful and powerful psychological process,” Gabrielle Agin-Liebes, lead investigator of the study and a PhD candidate at Palo Alto University in California, told HowHigh Center.

The study authors note that participants in the study “overwhelmingly (71 percent to 100 percent) attributed positive life changes to the psilocybin-assisted therapy experience and rated it among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives.”

Agin-Liebes says the findings are good news for people with cancer, and in particular those with cancers that have a high rate of recurrence.

“This could help patients face this possibility of recurrence with more confidence and equipoise. It may also help those struggling with more terminal diagnoses face that process with dignity and enhanced spiritual and psychological well-being,” she said.

Could Magic Mushrooms Ever Replace Today’s Antidepressants And Help Build Your Immune System?

Promising clinical trials of the hallucinogen psilocybin show that it may be an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, migraines, caner, and more…..

Hallucinogenic mushrooms contain psilocybin, which is responsible for their mind-altering effects. 

Interest in using hallucinogens, such as magic mushrooms, to treat depression is on the rise, fueled by the results of early clinical trials in people with cancer.

Researchers caution it will be several years before data is available from the first randomized trials of psilocybin — the hallucinogenic compound in magic mushrooms — for depression in those without cancer.

But advocates say psilocybin could provide an effective treatment for depression with fewer side effects than current antidepressants, which leave many people emotionally “blunted.”

“The work is very promising, with large effects shown for depression in the two largest studies in cancer patients, and large effects in the single published study outside of cancer,” said Matthew W. Johnson, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Promising results of early clinical trials

One of these studies — conducted in 2016 by researchers at Imperial College London and other institutions — found that a single dose of psilocybin had a long-lasting effect on people with moderate to severe major depression.

“This study showed an antidepressant effect after a week and enduring for a couple of months,” said Dr. Stephen Ross, co-director of the NYU Psychedelic Research Group in New York City.

However, he points out the study didn’t compare people taking psilocybin to people not taking the drug — the control group. So, the study results don’t necessarily show that psilocybin works for depression and many more health benefits.

The strongest psilocybin data so far is for treating anxiety and depression in people with cancer, carried out in two clinical trials by Ross and other researchers at NYU and by Johnson and others at Johns Hopkins University.

These studies, which included 80 participants combined, showed that psilocybin worked better than a non-hallucinogenic placebo for treating cancer-related depression.

“Our group found that psilocybin was a rapidly acting antidepressant,” Ross said. “And the effects lasted at least seven weeks, but maybe as long as six months. The Hopkins group found a similar thing.”

While these are some promising results, this is pretty much it for data on the use of psilocybin for the treatment of depression.

That hasn’t stopped people from promoting the drug’s potential.

“We’re at this interesting inflection point, where people have a lot of strong opinions with very little data. But wait a couple of years and we’ll have a decent amount of data,” said Dr. David Hellerstein, professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City.

Johnson says much larger randomized studies are needed before we’ll know the true potential of psilocybin for the treatment of depression.

Some of this work is already underway., a database of medical research studies in the United States and other countries, lists 12 current studies for psilocybin treatment of depression.

In addition to research being done at NYU, Johns Hopkins, and other universities, two pharmalike companies are also doing psilocybin research.

Usona Institute in Madison, Wisconsin, is planning a multisite phase II study of psilocybin for major depression. This kind of early clinical trial focuses on determining the best dose of psilocybin to use and its safety.

Ross will be the lead investigator for the NYU site. He says the hope is that this research, once completed, will go on to a full randomized clinical trial, also known as phase III.

The other company is U.K.-based COMPASS Pathways. It’s beginning a randomized clinical trial looking at psilocybin therapy for treatment-resistant depression.

In 2018, the company received breakthrough therapy designation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this therapy.

This shows that even the FDA thinks the research is promising. In spite of that, it’s still difficult for researchers to find money to pay for psilocybin clinical trials.

“The largest obstacle for this research field is obtaining funding,” said Johnson. “There has yet to be public funding in the U.S. for therapeutic trials with psychedelics, despite promising initial evidence.”

Hellerstein says researchers also have to deal with people joining clinical trials thinking they’ll be radically changed by psilocybin.

“People come in with such profound expectations for a life-transforming effect based on the cancer studies that have been done,” he said.

When analyzing the data, researchers have to tease apart the health effects caused by these expectations from the real effects of psilocybin.


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