Two new studies published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology have found evidence that psilocybin, a hallucinogenic substance found in magic mushrooms, can help those diagnosed with life-threatening cancers overcome the depression, anxiety, and existential worry brought on by their illnesses.
The studies conclude that a single dose of psilocybin could have been effective in almost 80% of patients tested.
The co-author of one of the studies, Roland Griffiths, explained that “a life-threatening cancer diagnosis can be psychologically challenging, with anxiety and depression as very common symptoms.”
For the first test, Griffiths and his colleagues enlisted the help of 51 cancer patients; all of whom had life-threatening conditions and had been diagnosed with depression or anxiety as a result of them.
After being administered a dose of psilocybin, many of the participants began to experience improvements in their mood.
Encouragingly, even six months later, 78% of those suffering from depression and 83% of those with anxiety continued to report reduced symptoms. Even more encouragingly, around 60% showed signs of complete remission.
Further evidence of this breakthrough comes from a double-blind placebo test also conducted.
In this test, 21 cancer patients were given either a dose of psilocybin or a placebo. These treatments were then switched 7 weeks later so that those who originally received psilocybin now got the placebo and vice versa.
In both cases, patients displayed improvements in mood immediately on taking the psilocybin, and no effect when given the placebo.
Again, after 6 and a half months, the psilocybin was still having a positive effect on around 80 percent of participants.
The neurological mechanisms behind these results are yet to be fully understood, but previous studies have shown that psilocybin activates the brain’s serotonin receptors – serotonin being a key neurotransmitter for mood control.
Another co-author of the study, Stephen Ross, explains, “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.”
His colleague Anthony Bossis added, “If it’s true for cancer care, then it could apply to other stressful medical conditions.”