Magic mushroom research: Hallucinogens help cancer patients cope

magic mushroom research photo

Clinical studies of psilocybin mushrooms showed that hallucinogens offered comfort to cancer patients facing the end of their lives. Image: Flickr/jmv/CC-BY.

Hallucinogenic mushrooms helped terminally ill cancer patients overcome the anxiety of coping with their last days, according to a 2005 study. Results of a study released Tuesday by researchers in Los Angeles showed that patients who were administered psilocybin, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, enjoyed relief from depression that enabled them to deal with the psychological and spiritual ordeal of a terminal illness. Research about the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs was derailed in the 1970s when the federal government outlawed mind altering drugs such as LSD. The magic mushroom study is considered a milestone for scientists working to return research on the clinical use of hallucinogens back to respectability.

Hallucinogens ease fear of dying

Results of the magic mushroom study were published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, a prestigious psychiatric journal. CNN reports that 12 patients struggling with their terminal diagnosis took a small dose of psilocybin under clinical supervision. A control group took a placebo, which had little effect. One to three months after taking psilocybin, patients said they were less anxious and their overall mood had improved. Six months later, the study group’s average score on a scale used to measure depression had dropped 30 percent. Some patients said their experience with psilocybin gave them a new perspective on their illness and brought them closer to family and friends.

More psychedelic drug research planned

Researchers who conducted the magic mushroom experiment are seeking funding for more studies. ABC News reports that psilocybin acts on the region of the brain responsible for nonverbal imagery and emotion. Magic mushroom hallucinogens have been used by native cultures for centuries. Cultural and political conflict brought therapeutic research with psychedelic drugs to a halt in the 1970s. Dr. Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center who led the magic mushroom studies, told ABC News that “40 years later, society has reached a point where it is sufficiently mature to handle these compounds in a safe and structured manner.”

Don’t try this at home

The magic mushroom research, aside from offering proof that clinical use of hallucinogens can be beneficial, demonstrated that studies with psilocybin can be done safely, according to Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University. Griffiths, who is conducting his own study using psilocybin, told the Los Angeles Times that the research conducted on psychedelic drugs in the 1950s and ’60s “was promising, but by no means did it reach the kinds of scientific standards that we would expect today.” The Times said Griffiths and Grob had to satisfy many federal and local regulators to get approval for the experiments. The researchers discouraged cancer patients from using magic mushrooms on their own. The studies screened subjects, strictly regulated their doses and prepared them to minimize the chance of a bad trip.

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