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December 2, 2016

‘Magic mushrooms’ help cancer patients deal with anxiety and depression

A naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by more than 200 species of mushrooms may effectively treat anxiety and depression systems in patients dealing with serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses, two separate clinical trials have reportedly confirmed.

According to Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times, one of the trials was conducted at New York University Langone Medical Center and involved 29 patients, while the other took place at Johns Hopkins University and involved 51 patients, all of whom were administered psilocybin.

In each case, the researchers found that approximately 80% of participating patients reported that they experienced a decrease in both anxiety and depression, as well as a higher overall quality of life, after being placed on psilocybin therapy. The improvement lasted for at least six months and in some cases, it appeared to be permanent, the authors reported in their respective studies.

Twenty of the 29 patients participating in the NYU study called it one of the “most meaningful” events of their lives, the Times said, and lead investigator Dr. Stephen Ross told Newsweek that he was skeptical at first, but after seeing the results repeat “20 to 30 times,” he started to realize that this was “a real effect.” The results, he continued, were “amazing.”

‘Groundbreaking’ results indicate sustained quality-of-life improvement

In the NYU study, which is detailed (along with the Johns Hopkins one) in the latest issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology, patients were split into two groups, with half of them receiving psilocybin and the other half receiving an “active placebo” of niacin, which can be used to mimic the beginning of a psychedelic experience by causing a rush of blood to the skin.

Afterwards, the researchers switched the two groups, and in both instances, the niacin was found to have little effect on anxiety or depression. For the Johns Hopkins study, patients took part in a pair of sessions – one in which they received a low dose of psilocybin, and another in which they were given a much higher dose. The effects of the smaller dose were comparatively negligible.

Dr. George Greer, medical director of the Heffter Research Institute (the nonprofit organization that funded both studies,” called the results “groundbreaking,” telling the Times, “ that the group is looking to create a future in which special clinics have regular access to psilocybin for use in treating patients who are depressed or suffering from anxiety. However, as Newsweek points out, psilocybin is listed as a Schedule I substance in the US and is currently illegal to possess.

The success of these trials, both of which are currently in Phase 2 (establishing the efficacy of the drug, usually against a placebo) come on the heels of the FDA’s decision to approve a large-scale Phase 3 trial to investigate the potential use of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine – a substance better known as ecstasy – for use in treating PTSD. If the upcoming trial proves to be effective, ecstasy could soon be classified as a prescription drug.

Psilocybin is much further away from receiving such status, although both of the new studies were double-blind placebo trials, which the Times calls the “gold-standard of medical research.” In fact, six months after the NYU trial, 87% of the patients reported an increase in overall life satisfaction and/or well-being, the newspaper said – all with minimal adverse side effects.

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