Psilocybin treatment reduces depression, anxiety in cancer patients

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Patients who received psilocybin for anxiety and depression experienced a reduction in symptoms.
Patients who received psilocybin for anxiety and depression experienced a reduction in symptoms.

Patients with life-threatening cancer who received psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression experienced a reduction in symptoms, according to a pair of studies published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

In one study, Stephen Ross, MD, from the New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital, and colleagues conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial in 29 patients with cancer-related anxiety and depression. The patients were randomly assigned to receive treatment with single-dose 0.3 mg/kg psilocybin or niacin in addition to psychotherapy. The researchers assessed anxiety and depression between the groups prior to the crossover at 7 weeks.

 

Psilocybin produced immediate and substantial improvements in anxiety and depression prior to the crossover. Psilocybin led to decreases in cancer-related demoralization and hopelessness, improved spiritual well-being, and improved quality of life. 

After 6.5 months of follow-up, psilocybin was associated with enduring anxiolytic and anti-depressant effects, sustained benefits in existential distress and quality of life, and improved attitudes about death. About 60% to 80% of participants also showed continued significant reductions in depression and anxiety. The researchers noted that psilocybin-induced mystical experience mediated the therapeutic effect of psilocybin treatment on anxiety and depression.

Roland R Griffiths, PhD, from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Department of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and colleagues studied the effect of a very low dose of psilocybin compared with a high dose in 51 individuals with life-threatening cancer.

A placebo-like dose (1 or 3 mg/70 kg) or a very high dose (22 or 30 mg/70 kg) was administered with 5 weeks between sessions and a 6-month follow-up. The participants, staff, and community observers rated participant moods, attitudes, and behaviors during the study.

The investigators found that participants who received high-dose psilocybin had decreased clinician and self-rated measures of depressed mood and anxiety. Participants receiving high-dose psilocybin also had increased quality of life, life meaning, and optimism.

The overall rate of clinical response at 6 months was 78% for clinician-rated depression and 83% for anxiety. The participants attributed their improvements in attitudes about life, mood, relationships, and spirituality to the high-dose experience, and more than 80% of participants experienced increased well-being and life satisfaction.

“Ratings by patients themselves, clinicians, and community observers suggested these effects endured at least 6 months,” the study authors concluded. “A multisite study in a larger and more diverse patient population should be conducted to establish the generality and safety of psilocybin treatment of psychological distress associated with life-threatening cancer.”

Reference

  1. Ross S, Bossis A, Guss J, et al. Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized controlled trial. J Psychopharmacol. 2016;30(12):1165-1180. doi:10.1177/0269881116675512
  2. Griffiths RR, Johnson MW, Carducci MA, et al. Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. J Psychopharmacol. 2016;30(12):1181-1197. doi:10.1177/0269881116675513
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