Hallucinogenic Drug Reduces Anxiety, Depression in Distressed Cancer Patients

Twenty-nine patients who had either advanced breast, gastrointestinal, or blood cancers took part in the study
Twenty-nine patients who had either advanced breast, gastrointestinal, or blood cancers took part in the study

A single moderate-dose of psilocybin (a hallucinogenic compound contained in psychedelic mushrooms) was found to produce enduring anxiolytic and antidepressant effects in distressed cancer patients with life-threatening diagnoses.

Researchers at NYU Langone enrolled 29 patients who had either advanced breast, gastrointestinal, or blood cancers and had been diagnosed as suffering from serious psychological distress related to their disease. 

The randomized, double-blind study assigned half of the participants to receive a single 0.3mg/kg dose of psilocybin and the other half to receive 250mg of niacin(which produces a "rush" that mimics a hallucinogenic drug experience). Each participant was provided with tailored counseling from a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse or social worker. After 7 weeks, the participants switched treatments with the psilocybin-treated patients receiving a single dose of placebo and the niacin-treated patients receiving psilocybin.  

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Results showed that the single dose of psilocybin brought relief from distress which lasted for more than 6 months in 80% of the patients. This was based on clinical evaluation scores for anxiety and depression.

“If larger clinical trials prove successful, then we could ultimately have available a safe, effective, and inexpensive medication — dispensed under strict control — to alleviate the distress that increases suicide rates among cancer patients,” said Stephen Ross, lead investigator of the study and associate professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine.

Co-investigator Anthony Bossis, PhD, commented on the potential of their findings, “Our study showed that psilocybin facilitated experiences that drove reductions in psychological distress and if it's true for cancer care, then it could apply to other stressful medical conditions.” However he did note that psilocybin may not work for everyone (such as patients with schizophrenia and adolescents) and should be taken under supervision.

Although the neurological benefits of psilocybin are not completely understood, it has been proven to activate parts of the brain also impacted by the signaling chemical serotonin.

The drug used in the study was manufactured by Organix Inc. in Woburn, Massachusetts. The drug is a banned substance and as such the study required federal waiver.

For more information visit Med.nyu.edu.

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