Ryan Lau | @agorisms
For thousands of years, people have used psychedelics to pursue life-altering experiences. With relatively low risk, these drugs have provided great insight to many. They also have, in smaller doses, helped to improve concentration and mental ability. Recently, LSD microdosing even became the subject of an anonymous public study. Now, information is out about the healing effects of psilocybin mushrooms on depression and anxiety on the terminally ill.
Also known as magic mushrooms, the drug can produce vivid hallucinations in heavy doses, but the overdose and injury risk are both particularly low. As a result, Denver is actually considering decriminalizing the drug, but they are not alone in showing support; a recent study points to a very interesting medical use for psilocybin mushrooms.
Psilocybin Mushrooms and Terminal Cancer
In December of 2016, the Journal of Psychopharmacology published a groundbreaking study on the effects of psilocybin mushrooms on terminal cancer patients. It’s fairly common knowledge that those facing a terminal illness have higher rates of depression and anxiety; of course, people with terminal cancer are prone to these effects. But evidence shows that the drug may have a major effect on their condition.
In the study, researchers looked at 51 cancer patients, each of whom had symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. A month after getting baseline measurements of depression and anxiety, half of the group received 3 micrograms of psilocybin (less than a microdose, a placebo). The other half consumed 30 micrograms, which is a medically significant quantity.
Five weeks later, the two groups reversed, getting the opposite dose. The researchers also monitored depression and anxiety levels after the first and second trial, as well as six months later. They then published their results from after the first and second session and at the follow-up.
Astonishingly, the drug had a clinically significant effect on the patients. The researchers defined this as depression and/or anxiety decreasing 50% or more from the baseline. For those that received the high dose first, the results were immediate. After the first session, 92% of subjects with depression and 76% of those with anxiety saw a clinical response. For 60% and 52%, respectively, the symptoms were in full remission.
On the other hand, those with the placebo dose did not see these changes. Clinical response rates were 32% and 24%, while remission rates were a paltry 16% and 12%. But once they received their dose the second time, the numbers shot up.
After session 2, the group that then received the high dose (the low-dose group from session 1) saw similar results to the high-dose group from session 1. Their clinical response rates for depression and anxiety were 75% and 83%, while remission rates spiked to 58% and 42%. At the six-month follow-up, the figures only changed marginally.
What Can We Conclude?
All in all, this study strongly suggests that psilocybin mushrooms may be very helpful in treating depression and anxiety in cancer patients. After all, just one dose sent over half of all participants into remission. Of course, the drug is not helpful in treating the diseases themselves. However, it can still change the way that people die, altering their perception of life for the better.
At this time, the biggest obstacle to treatment will almost certainly be governments across the world. In most countries, it is a crime to consume psilocybin mushrooms or other hallucinogenic drugs. Very few allow the practice and those that do have many nuances in the law. For example, psilocybin is illegal in Brazil, but the sale and consumption of mushrooms containing them are not. The United States, along with most countries, has a blanket ban on the substance.
With increasing evidence for medical capability, it is entirely possible that the world will soon see a push to legalize mushrooms. This could play out quite like the drive to legalize marijuana. As stated previously, Denver is already considering the measure. The FDA is also beginning to approve trials for their use. However, there likely will be pushback, particularly from more conservative lawmakers hesitant even to take action on marijuana. The future of psilocybin as a medical treatment is quite unknown, but one thing is clear: the drug has the potential to make a major impact on the world.