A single dose of psilocybin, a compound found in psychedelic mushrooms, can result in “significant improvements” in reducing stress and anxiety in cancer patients for as long as five years after it was administered, a new study suggests.
A research team at New York University‘s Grossman School of Medicine, who were following up a landmark 2016 study into psilocybin, found that in conjunction with psychotherapy, cancer patients experienced improvements in emotional and existential distress.
In the earlier study, the team reported that the use of psilocybin produced “immediate, substantial, and sustained improvements in anxiety and depression and led to decreases in cancer-related demoralisation and hopelessness, improved spiritual wellbeing, and increased quality of life”.
The new study — a long term follow up of the same set of patients — found the positive effects had continued.
“Participants overwhelmingly (71 to 100 per cent) attributed positive life changes to the psilocybin-assisted therapy experience and rated it among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives,” the researchers said.
“Adding to evidence dating back as early as the 1950s, our findings strongly suggest that psilocybin therapy is a promising means of improving the emotional, psychological, and spiritual wellbeing of patients with life-threatening cancer,” said the 2016 parent study’s lead investigator, Dr Stephen Ross.
“This approach has the potential to produce a paradigm shift in the psychological and existential care of patients with cancer, especially those with terminal illness.”
The researchers said psilocybin could become a useful tool for enhancing the effectiveness of psychotherapy and ultimately relieving these symptoms.
Although the precise mechanisms are not fully understood, scientists believe the drug can make the brain more flexible and receptive to new ideas and thought patterns. In addition, previous research indicates the drug targets a network of the brain, the default mode network, which becomes activated when we engage in self-reflection and mind wandering, and which helps to create our sense of self and sense of coherent narrative identity.