Many mesothelioma patients face a bleak prognosis, with survival often less than 18 months. They often become overwhelmed and depressed as they fight to improve their survival, but are forced to face their mortality at the same time. Now, researchers say the use of psilocybin, an hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms, may help improve a cancer patient’s outlook and can lead to “profound and enduring mental health benefits.”
The Journal of Psychopharmacology announced in an editorial of its special December issue that two of the “most rigorous controlled trials to date using the psychedelic drug psilocybin” found one “psychedelic experience” could bring significant relief to cancer patients suffering from anxiety and depression. In an overwhelmingly positive response to the studies by countless psychiatric organizations, the consensus is, “it’s time to take psychedelic treatments in psychiatry and oncology seriously, as we did in the 1950s and 1960s, which means we need to go back to the future,” according to the editorial by David Nutt, Imperial College London.
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine conducted a trial in 51 cancer patients with life-threatening diagnoses and symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. They found that patients who received a “high-dose” of psilocybin had “large” drops in feelings of depression and anxiety as well in death anxiety. In addition, they saw an increase in their quality of life and optimism. Nearly 80% of the patients reported a “moderately or greater increased well-being/life satisfaction.”
CNN reports in a Dec. 1 article that one patient who was suffering from metastatic endometrial cancer participated in the Johns Hopkins trial. After receiving a single dose of psilocybin during the study, she said, “it was kind of magic. As I took it, the cloud of doom seemed to just lift. From then on, I was fine.” The woman had seen little to no improvement in her depression when taking prescription anti-depressants prior to the trial.
Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart caused by past exposure to asbestos. Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with the cancer each year. Research has shown that patients who focus on the power of the mind-body connection and choose to be optimistic and positive will realize a higher quality of life and may respond better to treatments. However, some patients need an effective medicine to lift their spirits when depression has taken hold.
In the second study led by the New York University School of Medicine, the team took a group of 29 patients with cancer-related anxiety and depression. After just a single-dose of psilocybin, the patients experienced “immediate, substantial, and sustained improvements in anxiety and depression,” as well an increase in their spiritual wellbeing and their quality of life. After 6.5 months, the patients had “sustained benefits in existential distress and quality of life, as well as improved attitudes towards death.”
Various studies have been conducted that show positive thinking results in the improvement in a patient’s health. Many physicians believe that when there is an improvement in a patient’s mood and outlook on the illness the patient can recover more quickly from surgery and other treatments. When feeling better emotionally, mesothelioma patients may see an improvement in their energy levels, mental acuity, sleep patterns and breathing even while undergoing treatments.
The results led researchers to conclude that, along with psychotherapy, psilocybin may be a quick, effective and lasting treatment for patients with cancer-related psychological distress.
It is important to note that these studies were conducted in medical settings and the treatment was highly controlled. More research needs to be conducted, and, according to the researchers, this type of treatment will more than likely always be given in a medical facility and not released to patients.
“Hopefully, the positive findings that they report will act to spur on other researchers in the field of psychopharmacology, particularly in relation to depression, anxiety and addiction,” said Nutt.
- Journal of Psychopharmacology
- Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
- New York University School of Medicine