Study: Psilocybin Could Successfully Treat Depression and Anxiety

Are magic mushrooms the mental health medication we've been waiting for?

Mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression affect millions of people. Compound the dark and cloudy conditions they weather with feelings of isolation and hopelessness that cancer patients endure, and each day can become a living hell. Psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin (the chemical in magic mushrooms), and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), might offer renewed hope for the cancer patients (and eventually everyone else) who are also suffering from depression and anxiety, according to two landmark studies published Thursday in the Journal of Psychopharmacology

Carried out by researchers Roland Griffiths and a team at Johns Hopkins University, in conjunction with another group led by Stephen Ross of the New York University Langone Medical Center, the studies had terminally ill participants dosing psilocybin as an exploration into how the drug can treat depression associated with a dire cancer diagnosis. The studies' methodology “evaluated a range of clinically relevant measures using a double-blind cross-over design to compare a very low psilocybin dose (intended as a placebo) to a moderately high psilocybin dose in 51 patients under conditions that minimized expectancy effects,” says study leader Roland R. Griffiths of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Johns Hopkins psilocybin session (via)

But psychedelic drug studies haven’t always been conducted with public acceptance or government approval. 

“Psychedelics came at a time when culture wasn’t really ready,” Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), previously told KINDLAND. 

“Now, our culture is ready.”

Drug War stigmas have reduced the experience of taking LSD, and the psychedelic culture at large, to “good trips,” or “bad trips,” dismissing any medical or therapeutic benefits offered by the chemical substances. 

“Negative or challenging experiences are really common with psychedelics, and most people come through them unscathed,” Dr. Adam Winstock, founder of the Global Drug Survey previously told KINDLAND. “[These experiences can be] transformative, growth-promoting. . . It’s those difficult experiences, which make psychedelics therapeutic.” 

Winstock’s 2017 survey explores in part, a resurgence in psychedelic research (and recreational use). 

This shift in status quo could likely lead to more explorative endeavors similar to the latest Hopkins-NYU psilocybin study. The outcome of which was described by Rolands as positive: 

“For the clinician-rated measures of depression and anxiety, respectively, the overall rate of clinical response at 6 months was 78% and 83%, and the overall rate of symptom remission was 65% and 57%,” the author writes. “Participants attributed to the high-dose experience positive changes in attitudes about life, self, mood, relationships and spirituality, with over 80% endorsing moderately or higher increased well-being or life satisfaction.”

One participant––a middle-aged woman diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma––told The Atlantic of her psychedelic experience, which included seeing bright colors, hearing welcoming sounds, and an interaction with a mystical creature. “It’s Cancer the crab,” she said referring to the zodiac sign. “It could have been a big, horrifying monster crab that was about to tear me up and eat me. But it wasn’t, it was comic relief. There is still humor in life, there’s still beauty in life.” 

The NYU study, which had fewer participants (29), who also first dosed a vitamin placebo, found similar results: Between 60 and 80 percent of participants experienced improvements in depression and anxiety.

Psychedelics allow the user to "escape," so it's only natural that these drugs could act as a positive mental reset.

“The moment they get psilocybin, their distress comes down,” Ross said to The Atlantic. “That’s very new in psychiatry, to have a medication that works immediately for depression and anxiety and can last for that long.”

According to the psychedelic researcher, and author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, Dr. James Fadiman, psychedelics allow the user to "escape," so it's only natural that these drugs could act as a positive mental reset.

Fadiman led some of the earliest clinical studies of psychedelics in the 1960s, and has compiled hundreds of self-reported experiences of people “microdosing” psychedelics––or ingesting an almost imperceptible amount of LSD or psilocybin to stimulate creativity, productivity, or mental clarity––And when it comes to the practice, which the researcher first learned of via the “Father of LSD,” Albert Hoffman, Fadiman previously told KINDLAND:

“Most are seeking help in treating anxiety, depression.”

There's another NYU study in the works that will have alcoholics taking psilocybin in an effort to quit drinking.