Studies not only show that Magic Mushrooms has a chemical that permanently cures depression in untreatable cases, another interesting antidote of a cancer patient shows it has even more implications than previously thought:
In 2010, doctors diagnosed Dinah Bazer with ovarian cancer. After treatment and chemotherapy, it went into remission, but as the months wore on, she became increasingly terrified that the disease might return. Two years after diagnosis, she felt worse than ever. “The fear was eating me alive,” she says. “It was destroying my life.”
She heard about a study at New York University, where physicians were using psilocybin—the active ingredient in psychoactive mushrooms of the genus Psilocybe, referred to by some as magic mushrooms—to treat cancer patients struggling with extreme anxiety and depression. After being carefully screened, Bazer entered the study and got to know the psychologists running it during several therapy sessions. Then, one day, she was given a moderately high dose of psilocybin.
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After feeling the drug kick in, she felt like she was lost at sea, afraid. One of her therapists held her hand, and this gave her mooring. She had a vision of her fear as a dark mass under her ribcage. It was consuming her. She became angry, furious. “Get the fuck out!” she screamed.
A moment later, the fear was gone. “It completely evaporated,” she says.
Next, she felt transported to a place where she felt nothing but love. “I’m an atheist, but the best way to describe it—I felt bathed in God’s love… probably the most powerful emotion I’ve ever felt.”
Four years later, the anxiety hasn’t come back. She feels happy to be alive and does things she couldn’t do before, like making new friends, meditating, and simply slowing down. “It really changed everything for me,” she says. “I’m so much more active, so much more able to reach out. I feel like I belong in the world.”
A Real Effect
When Dr. Stephen Ross, study leader and director of addiction psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, first heard anecdotes like this from study participants, he was skeptical. “But after seeing this 20 to 30 times, I thought: This is amazing,” he says. “It’s a real effect.”
Two long-awaited studies published December 1 in the Journal of Psychopharmacologyattest to this. One conducted at NYU involved 29 patients; another, done at Johns Hopkins University, had 51. Both studies followed similar protocols, and both found that after being given psilocybin, 80 percent of patients experienced a drop in anxiety and depression that lasted for six months or more. In some cases, as in Bazer’s, it appears to be permanent. Both the patients and their psychiatric evaluators concurred that these people were more optimistic, felt their lives were more meaningful and had a better quality of life.
In cases where the cancer was terminal, the treatment allowed people to accept their impending deaths and suffer less than they might have without the psilocybin, says Roland Griffiths, who led the Johns Hopkins study. “There’s something about these experiences that allows people to see their disease process in a much larger scope,” he says. “They might say—‘I’m very sad, I’m dying. But in a larger sense it’s OK, and it’ll be alright.’ They’re certainly not welcoming their death, but they’re no longer deeply fearful of it.”
Charles Grob, a researcher and psychiatrist at UCLA, says there is no other drug that can be taken once and have such long-lasting effects. He’s not surprised, though, because he conducted a 2011 study on psilocybin which found similar improvements in 12 cancer patients.
The results have been hailed by leading psychologists as a potentially paradigm-changing way to treat anxiety and depression in patients with cancer or other terminal illnesses. Griffiths says it also raises hopes that the drug could one day be used to do the same for healthy people.
Nineteen scientists and doctors, including two former heads of the American Psychiatric Association, wrote 10 commentaries in the journal about the importance of the work. “To many people brought up on the Reagan drug-war era with the ‘drugs fry your brain’ message, psilocybin may seem a strange and possibly even a dangerous drug treatment of serious mental illness,” writes David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London, in an editorial. But the high quality of the research and the strong support shown for it—the “list of the commentators reads like a Who’s Who of American and European psychiatry”—should “reassure any waverers that this use of psilocybin is well within the accepted scope of modern psychiatry,” Nutt adds.