Magic mushroom ingredient psilocybin improves late stage cancer anxiety

Magic mushroom ingredient psilocybin improves late stage cancer anxiety

The hallucinogen psilocybin appears to be safe and feasible to give to patients with advanced-stage cancer and anxiety - a study published in Archives of General Psychiatry reports it had a promising effect on mood. Psilocybin is the active ingredient in an illegal Class A drug in the UK called magic mushroom. In the USA, possession of psilocybin-containing mushrooms is illegal because they contain psilocin and psilocybin, both Schedule I drugs.

Mushrooms that contain psilocybin are used both recreationally, and traditionally, for spiritual purposes, as entheogens - psychoactive substance used in a religious, shamanic or spiritual context - with a history of use spanning millennia

The authors write as background information in the article:

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness that the psychological, spiritual and existential crises often encountered by patients with cancer and their families need to be addressed more vigorously.

From the late 1950s to the early 1970s, research was carried out exploring the use of hallucinogens to treat the existential anxiety, despair and isolation often associated with advanced-stage cancer. Those studies described critically ill individuals undergoing psychospiritual epiphanies, often with powerful and sustained improvement in mood and anxiety as well as diminished need for narcotic pain medication.

No follow-up research had been carried out, the authors point out, however, the therapeutic value of hallucinogens is now being re-assessed in psychiatric settings.

Charles S. Grob, M.D., of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, Torrance, and team explored the safety and efficacy of psilocybin - a hallucinogen with some psychological effects similar to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) - among 12 adult patients who had advanced-stage cancer, and also anxiety.

The patients, who served as their own controls, took part in two 6-hour treatment sessions. Each session occurred after an interval of several weeks. They were given a 0.2 milligram per kilogram dose of psilocybin or a placebo of niacin (250 milligrams) in identical clear capsules. The research team measured their blood pressure, temperature, and heart rates before and after taking the capsules. Psychological measures were also done, including assessments for anxiety, mood and depression before and after each session, then again one day, two weeks later, and at monthly intervals for six months.

The authors wrote:

Safe physiological and psychological responses were documented during treatment sessions," the authors write. "We also observed no adverse psychological effects from the treatment. All subjects tolerated the treatment sessions well, with no indication of severe anxiety or a 'bad trip.'

Anxiety scores also improved at 1 and 3 months after treatment. A depression inventory showed an improvement in mood that began a couple of weeks after treatment and reached a significant level at six months.

The researchers concluded:

This study established the feasibility and safety of administering moderate doses of psilocybin to patients with advanced-stage cancer and anxiety. Some of the data revealed a positive trend toward improved mood and anxiety. These results support the need for more research in this long-neglected field.


"Pilot Study of Psilocybin Treatment for Anxiety in Patients With Advanced-Stage Cancer"

Charles S. Grob, MD; Alicia L. Danforth, MA; Gurpreet S. Chopra, MD; Marycie Hagerty, RN, BSN, MA; Charles R. McKay, MD; Adam L. Halberstadt, PhD; George R. Greer, MD

Arch Gen Psychiatry. Published online September 6, 2010. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.116

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