In each trial, participants — all of whom had cancer — reported around an 80 percent improvement in symptoms of anxiety and depression when they took a dose of psilocybin, an ingredient found in so-called “magic mushrooms.”
Not only that, but there were minimal side effects and the positive results lasted some seven months after taking a single dose. This stands in stark contrast to traditional depression and anxiety medications, which typically take a few weeks to kick in.
“Cancer patients with anxiety and depression need help immediately,” he said, “especially if you consider that they are at elevated risk for completed suicide,” Dr. Stephen Ross, the lead investigator and chief of addiction psychiatry at NYU told The New York Times.
Also worth noting is that the more intense the trippy experience described by participants was, the more relief they felt from their depression and anxiety. While the results are promising, don’t get too excited over a new potential treatment for mood disorders — hallucinogens are unlikely to be used therapeutically any time soon.
Given the criminal association with hallucinogenic drugs, not everyone’s on board. Some experts questioned the reliability of the results given the fact that the participants were each at different stages of cancer, which could impact their mental health. Additionally, some have expressed concern over the drug’s use with cancer patients.
“Medical marijuana got its foot in the door by making the appeal that ‘cancer patients are suffering, they’re near death, so for compassionate purposes, let’s make it available,’” Dr. William Breitbart, chairman of the psychiatry department at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center told The New York Times. “And then you’re able to extend this drug to other purposes.”
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When hallucinogens like psilocybin became illegal in the United States in the 1970s, research involving this type of drug stopped. Studies resumed in the 2000s, primarily with private funding. The success of this recent trial may help bolster other research proposals in this area, potentially on a much larger scale.