Dealing with a cancer diagnosis can cause severe psychological distress, although research suggests that psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, may help sufferers to overcome many of the existential challenges that accompany the illness. Appearing in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, a new study indicates that a single treatment with the drug can generate profound improvements in cancer patients’ quality of life for up to 4.5 years.
The study builds upon research published in 2016, when psilocybin treatment was provided to 29 people suffering from life-threatening cancers, all of whom had been diagnosed with depression or anxiety as a consequence of their illness. Half a year later, some 60 to 80 percent of participants displayed a significant reduction in symptoms related to their depression or anxiety.
Of the 16 surviving participants from that study, 15 agreed to take part in the new follow-up study, which found that these “reductions in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, demoralization, and death anxiety were sustained” 4.5 years on from the initial psilocybin treatment. As before, 60 to 80 percent of participants still met the criteria for “clinically significant antidepressant or anxiolytic responses,” with 71 to 100 percent attributing these improvements to their psilocybin experience.
In their write-up, the study authors include quotes taken from interviews with the participants, which give an insight into some of the existential processes underlying this reduction in symptoms.
One participant explained that “I experienced such overwhelming love in my psilocybin experience, that it gave me new confidence… I think the extreme depth of love I felt changed the way I relate to others. [It] gave me a feeling that I have a right to be here and to enjoy life.”
Another described how “the psilocybin experience changed my thoughts about myself in the world. I see myself in a less limited way. I am more open to life. It has taken me out from under a big load of feelings and past issues in my life that I was carrying around.”
The study authors stress that these insights were brought about not by psilocybin alone, but by combining the substance with psychotherapy. They speculate that this experience may “lead one to develop enduring increases in psychological flexibility.”
This, they say, could enable patients to “establish a new inner framework from which they could flexibly avail themselves of resources internally and in their environment to cope with life stressors, particularly stressors associated with their cancer diagnoses.”