Hallucinogens are back on the table—at least when it comes to clinical trials. Hundreds of trials in the 1940s and 1950s studied their effects, but since their ban in the late '60s the research all but stopped, reports the New York Times. Nowadays, though, drugs like MDMA (think Ecstasy) and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) are once again the subject of multiple studies: Two trials out of Johns Hopkins and NYU Langone Medical Center involving 80 cancer patients with symptoms of depression and anxiety suggest that a single dose of psilocybin has immediate positive effects, ones that persisted more than 6 months later among 80% of the patients, both teams report in the Journal of Psychopharmacology (second trial here).
One participant treated for Stage 3 Hodgkin's lymphoma remained terrified of his own mortality; he tells the Times that after swallowing a capsule of psilocybin in a dimly lit room, he laid down, put on headphones and an eye mask, and began tripping (a psychiatrist and social worker monitored). "I had an epiphany," he says of his eight-hour session, where he watched black smoke rise from his body; three years later, the crippling anxiety remains absent. The New Scientist, which calls the studies the "most extensive trial of psilocybin," reports that antidepressants haven't been overly successful in treating cancer patients, up to 40% of whom can develop depression and anxiety. The jury is out on how exactly psilocybin works, but one theory is that it disrupts the circuitry of self-absorbed thoughts common in people with depression. (Similar findings have come out of the UK.)