Today, in a ground-breaking development in the field of psychiatry, two new studies were published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology showing that a single dose of psilocybin – a powerful, naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in “magic mushrooms” – can radically improve the well-being and positivity of terminally ill cancer patients.
The research, completed at NYU and Johns Hopkins University, gave participants diagnosed with advanced cancer a moderate to high dose of psilocybin in a controlled environment with psychological support from highly qualified guides. Results demonstrated immediate and marked reductions in their levels of anxiety and depression that, remarkably, still persisted 6 months later in 80 per cent of the participants.
Presently, end-of-life care consists of supportive counselling and pharmaceutical treatments, such as antidepressants, to quell feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety commonly associated with a diagnosis of terminal illness. However most medications, along with psychotherapy, can take months to start working and are not effective for all patients. Commonly prescribed drugs such as benzodiazepines may be addictive and can have other unpleasant side effects.
The approach highlighted today, known as “psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy” makes use of the “magic mushroom” ingredient psilocybin. Various studies using this approach over the last decade have shown that giving people psychedelics, with the support of psychotherapy, can provide fundamental and enduring changes much quicker than counselling alone. As a result, in recent years, psilocybin has received increasing attention in the clinical and scientific research communities.
Earlier this year, the Beckley/Imperial Psilocybin and Depression study showed that two low to medium doses of psilocybin reduced depressive symptoms in 67 per cent of participants, with 42 per cent remaining depression-free after three months. Participants in this study had all suffered from depression for at least 18 years and been completely unresponsive to any other forms of treatment. Next year, a larger, placebo-controlled study will be conducted to verify these findings.
And that’s not all. In addition to the focus of psychedelic-assisted therapy for depression and anxiety, the Johns Hopkins team also conducted a pilot study investigating smoking addiction treatment with psilocybin. Results showed 80 per cent of the smokers still hadn’t had a cigarette at the six month check-up.
Most interestingly, the research showed that people were most likely to successfully stop smoking if they reported having mystical experiences on the days they were treated with psychedelics. These experiences were variously described by people as “mystical”, “spiritual”, “ego-dissolution” and “feelings of oneness”. It seems that when people reported these feelings, it correlated with a transformation of previously entrenched thoughts patterns that made them keep repeating the same negative habits."
It is possible that it is this aspect of the experience that enables cancer patients to alleviate the anguish associated with their diagnosis. “In some ways, I feel that I am better equipped to deal with what life throws at me, and to appreciate the good things. I am grateful to be alive in a way that I didn’t know I could be grateful,” said Eddie Marritz, a participant in the NYU study. “It’s a kind of gratitude that’s ineffable. I am much more focused on this moment.”
In 1998, I started the Beckley Foundation in order to investigate how certain psychoactive compounds can alter consciousness in ways that can provide transformational and therapeutic benefits to individuals suffering from a wide range of common psychiatric conditions. Earlier this year, we finally undertook the first brain-imaging study to investigate how LSD has its effects in the brain. These findings correlated with the findings from our psilocybin studies, and have begun to build our understanding of how these compounds alter blood supply and connectivity in ways that can help change fixed patterns that underlie many debilitating illnesses such as depression, anxiety, addiction, OCD, PTSD, and others.
World's 10 deadliest street drugs
World's 10 deadliest street drugs
1/10 10. Purple Drank
One of the more unusual drugs around at the moment, purple drank was popularised in 90s hip hop culture, with the likes of Jay Z and Big Moe all mentioning it in their songs. It is a concoction of soda water, sweets and cold medicine, and is drunk due to cold medicines high codeine content, which gives the user a woozy feeling. However it can also cause respiratory issues and heart failure
2/10 9. Scopolamine
Scopolamine is a derivative from the nightshade plant found in the Northern Indian region of South America (Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela). It is generally found in a refined powder form, but can also be found as a tea. The drug is more often used by criminals due its high toxicity level (one gram is believed to be able to kill up to 20 people) making it a strong poison. However, it is also believed that the drug is blown into the faces of unexpecting victims, later causing them to lose all sense of self-control and becoming incapable of forming memories during the time they are under the influence of the drug. This tactic has reportedly been used by gangs in Colombia where there have been reports of people using scopolamine as way to convince victims to rob their own homes
3/10 8. Heroin
Founded in 1874 by C. R. Alder Wright, heroin is one of the world’s oldest drugs. Originally it was prescribed as a strong painkiller used to treat chronic pain and physical trauma. However in 1971 it was made illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Since then it has become one of the most destructive substances in the world, tearing apart communities and destroying families. The side effects of heroin include inflammation of the gums, cold sweats, a weak immune system, muscular weakness and insomnia. It can also damage blood vessels which can later cause gangrene if left untreated
4/10 7. Crack cocaine
Crack cocaine first came about in the 1980’s when cocaine became a widespread commodity within the drug trafficking world. Originally cocaine would have attracted a high price tag due to its rarity and difficulty to produce, but once it became more widespread the price dropped significantly. This resulted in drug dealers forming their cocaine into rock like shapes by using baking soda as a way of distilling the powder down into rock form. People were doing this because it allowed for them to sell cocaine at a lower quantity and to a higher number of people. The side effects of crack cocaine include liver, kidney and lung damage, as well as permanent damage to blood vessels, which can often lead to heart attacks, strokes, and ultimately death
5/10 6. Crystal meth
Not just famous because of a certain Walter H White, but also because it is one of the most destructive drugs in the world. First developed in 1887, it became widely used during the Second World War when both sides would give it to their troops to keep them awake. It is also believed that the Japanese gave it to their Kamikaze pilots before their suicide missions. After the war crystal meth was prescribed as a diet aid and remained legal until the 1970s. Since then it has fallen into the hands of Mexican gangs and has become a worldwide phenomenon, spreading throughout Europe and Asia. The effects of crystal meth are devastating. In the short-term users will become sleep depraved and anxious, and in the long-term it will cause their flesh to sink, as well as brain damage and damage of the blood vessels
6/10 5. AH-7921
AH-7921 is a synthetic opioid that was previously available to legally purchase online from vendors until it became a Class A in January 2015. The drug is believed to have 80% of the potency of morphine, and became known as the ‘legal heroin’. While there has only been one death related to AH-7921 in the UK, it is believed to be highly dangerous and capable of causing respiratory arrest and gangrene
7/10 4. Flakka
Flakka is a stimulant with a similar chemical make-up to the amphetamine-like drug found in bath salts. While the drug was originally marketed as a legal high alternative to ecstasy, the effects are significantly different. The user will feel an elevated heart rate, enhanced emotions, and, if enough is digested, strong hallucinations. The drug can cause permanent psychological damage due to it affecting the mood regulating neurons that keep the mind’s serotonin and dopamine in check, as well as possibly causing heart failure
8/10 3. Bath salts
Bath salts are a synthetic crystalline drug that is prevalent in the US. While they may sound harmless, they certainly aren’t the sort of salts you drop into a warm bath when having a relaxing night in, they are most similar to mephedrone, and have recently been featured throughout social media due to the ‘zombification’ of its. The name comes from the fact that the drug was originally sold online, and widely disguised as bath salts. The side effects include unusual psychiatric behaviour, psychosis, panic attacks and violent behaviour, as well as the possibility of a heart attack and an elevated body temperature
9/10 2. Whoonga
Whoonga is a combination of antiretroviral drugs, used to treat HIV, and various cutting agents such as detergents and poisons. The drug is widely available in South Africa due to South Africa’s high rate of HIV sufferers, and is believed to be popular due to how cheap it is when compared to prescribed antiretrovirals. The drug is highly addictive and can cause major health issues such as internal bleeding, stomach ulcers and ultimately death
10/10 1. Krokodil
Krokodil is Russia’s secret addiction. It is believed that over one million Russians are addicted to the drug. Users of krokodil are attracted to the drug due to its low price; it is sold at £20 a gram while heroin is sold for £60. However, krokodil is considered more dangerous than heroin because it is often homemade, with ingredients including painkillers, iodine, lighter fluid and industrial cleaning agents. This chemical make-up makes the drug highly dangerous and likely to cause gangrene, and eventually rotting of the flesh
The research being done with terminal cancer patients adds to the growing collection of evidence of psychedelics’ therapeutic potential and indicates a significant development of an exciting new model of mental health treatment. Scientists are discovering that psychedelics change consciousness in a unique way that has the tremendous potential to revolutionise the field of psychiatry.
“The most interesting and remarkable finding is that a single dose of psilocybin, which lasts four to six hours, produced enduring decreases in depression and anxiety symptoms, and this may represent a fascinating new model for treating some psychiatric conditions,” said Dr Roland Griffiths, lead investigator at Johns Hopkins.
As larger Phase III clinical trials are conducted, further investigating the positive effects psychedelics like psilocybin can have on mental illnesses, it’s clear that this new model could help countless people worldwide who are seeking a long-term solution for their psychological suffering.
Amanda Feilding is the Executive Director of the Beckley FoundationReuse content