Psilocybin May Ease Anxiety for a Surprisingly Long Time

Cancer patients still feeling positive effects almost 5 years later
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 28, 2020 8:43 AM CST
Psychedelics May Ease Anxiety for a Surprisingly Long Time
Psilocybin mushrooms are seen in a grow room in this file photo.   (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

About five years ago, a study found that cancer patients who took one dose of the compound found in magic mushrooms had much less anxiety. A followup study suggests the psilocybin's effect is still in place, reports NBC News. The study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests that psilocybin "may be able to profoundly reshape how people handle stress and fear," per ScienceNews. One caveat is that the study sample is small, involving 29 patients in the original 2016 study and a followup of 15 of them in the new study. But the results are "mind-boggling" to researcher Stephen Ross of New York University's Langone Medical Center. The patients were given the psilocybin in tandem with psychotherapy sessions. In about six months, most saw notable reductions in depression and anxiety. What researchers did not know was how long those effects would last.

"The drug seems to facilitate a deep, meaningful experience that stays with a person and can fundamentally change his or her mindset and outlook," says another of the researchers, Gabby Agin-Liebes, per CNN. In the followup study, one-third of the patients still had active cancer and the rest were in some stage of remission. But the majority still had improved feelings and behavior, and they credited psilocybin. One in remission, for example, says she was not obsessing over a possible relapse. So what's going on? That part is unclear, but an expert at Imperial College London floats a theory: Depression is marked by "over-organized thinking," says David Nutt. "People think about themselves repeatedly in a negative way, they get locked into these cycles." Psilocybin "disorganizes thinking and allows people, for a period of time, to think differently and break those cycles.” (More psilocybin mushrooms stories.)

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