02 Dec Key ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’ eased cancer patients’ fear of death – Washington Post
“A single dose of psilocybin, the long-banned active compound in “magic mushrooms,” significantly reduced anxiety, depression and the fear of death among cancer patients for months at a time, according to two studies published Thursday.
Eighty people in separate clinical trials at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and New York University Langone Medical Center were given psilocybin under close supervision. The vast majority experienced an increase in optimism, a feeling of connection with other people, and mystical and spiritual experiences. The effects persisted through the six-month follow-up period.
The research, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, is the latest to suggest that psilocybin and other hallucinogenic drugs might be beneficial for people with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug, alcohol or tobacco addictions.
Craig Blinderman, a palliative care expert at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center who was not involved in the research, called the results “groundbreaking.” If they are confirmed, he said, psilocybin could become a powerful tool in easing “existential distress” in people with life-threatening cancer and other diseases.
Psilocybin may help cancer patients with anxiety (New York University Langone Medical Center)
Other scientists cautioned that psilocybin and other hallucinogens can be unpredictable.
For Dinah Bazer, a 69-year-old Brooklyn resident, the NYU trial was a “life-changing” experience. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in May 2010, she was treated successfully but “really went nuts” worrying that the cancer would return, she said.
In the fall of 2012, she was given psilocybin — though at the time she was not told whether she was getting the drug or a placebo — and stretched out on a couch listening to music under the watchful eye of two therapists. Soon, she said, she saw a black mass, like a giant lump of coal under her rib — her fear. Erupting in anger, she shouted, “Get the f—out! I won’t be eaten alive!”
Later during the experience, Bazer, an atheist, said she felt “bathed in God’s love.” She said she has not worried about a return of the cancer since.
The Hopkins and NYU studies had some differences but produced almost identical results. Roland Griffiths, a psychopharmacologist who led the Hopkins study, said the key finding — that a single dose of psilocybin produced “enduring” relief — represented a possible new model for treating other psychiatric ailments. Psychiatrist Stephen Ross, who led the NYU study, said it is critical to find new treatments for anguished cancer patients because such distress is linked to increased rates of suicide and decreased survival.” By Laurie McGinley