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Psilocybin may help cancer patients deal with depression for years


After taking a compound found
in magic mushrooms, people with cancer had less anxiety and depression, even
years later, a new study suggests.

The
evidence isn’t strong enough yet to pin these lasting improvements on the
hallucinatory episode itself, as opposed to other life changes. But the findings
leave open the possibility that the compound, called psilocybin, may be able to profoundly reshape how people handle
distress and fear (SN: 9/26/06).

Research published
in 2016 suggested that a dose of psilocybin in combination with therapy
could quickly ease anxiety and depression in people with cancer. But scientists wanted to know whether
these effects lasted.

Surveys conducted
about three and 4½ years after the psilocybin dose showed that a majority of
the 15 people still had fewer signs of anxiety and depression compared with before they took
the compound, the team reports January 28 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. (By the second follow-up, about a third of the participants
still had active cancer; the rest were in partial or complete remission.)

All the
participants said they had “moderate,” “strong” or “extreme” positive changes
in their behavior that they attribute to their experience, which many described
as one of the most personally meaningful events of their lives.

Everyone
in the initial study, which took place at New York University, received
psilocybin, though at slightly different times to allow comparisons of its
immediate effects. Without comparing these people’s long-term shifts with the
experiences of people who didn’t receive psilocybin, it’s impossible to tease
out its effect.

Still,
these psilocybin experiences hint that the hallucinogen could be useful in
helping people cope with hard diagnoses. The treatment “helped me to move on
with my life and not focus on the possibility of cancer recurring,” one
participant told researchers.



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