There’s a rapidly increasing body of evidence that the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms called Psilocybin is an effective treatment for end-of-life depression. Several studies over the past decade which investigated using pure psilocybin to treat depression and anxiety in cancer patients have found the psychedelic has a surprisingly large and long-lasting effect.
Empathogenic medications or “hug drugs” like Psilocybin and MDMA can be used with therapy to rapidly transform the pain or sadness felt by patients into feelings of wellness and emotional connection. Not only has psilocybin therapy been found to be 4 times as effective as traditional anti-anxiety medications, but psilocybin also doesn’t have the often unpleasant side effects that come with antidepressants.
What Do The Studies Say?
Several trials with psilocybin have produced dramatic results. Research completed in 2008 showed administering psilocybin to patients with cancer and other terminal illnesses safely reduced their anxiety about their own mortality. Statistics from a more recent study published in 2020 showed that 71% of patients treated using psilocybin experienced a reduction of over 50% of symptoms. And more than half of all participants in these studies ultimately entered remission.
Just a single dose of psilocybin made it easier for them to cope with their illness and experience less fear, depression, hopelessness, and death anxiety. This is also a transformation that can provide long-term relief, lasting months or even years after the dose of psilocybin. In fact, nearly all participants were still experiencing significant improvements 4 to 5 years later, which they attributed to their psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.
How Does It Work?
Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy using psilocybin or MDMA is so much more than just a “trip”. Clinical studies suggest their effectiveness stems from the often spiritual, meaningful, or profound experiences which help alter how each patient perceives their specific situation. These biological effects also seem to work best when done in concert with human guidance via therapy.
By targeting specific serotonin receptors which affect moods and organized thought, psilocybin stimulates the neuroplasticity of the brain to create new neural connections. This provides patients with a period of time where they can think differently and ultimately break the cycles of depression.
What Is the History?
The idea of using psychedelic treatments is not new. Medical research was first conducted in the late 1800s to examine their effectiveness with psychiatric diseases. Scientists later tested psychedelics on around 40,000 patients in the 1950s, eventually publishing over 1,000 articles on their use in the psychiatric treatment of anxiety and depression.
It wasn’t until the late 1960s when the use of recreational drugs became popular that they were criminalized, causing the FDA to constrict research supplies. This was the only time in medical history that drugs were made unavailable even for scientific researchers due to a cultural phenomenon. Thankfully the momentum has been building for psychedelic therapeutic research over the last few decades with the FDA giving both MDMA and psilocybin Breakthrough Therapy Designations.
What Does The Future Hold?
Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy is proving effective for sufferers of end-of-life depression, but it may also be useful for treating other debilitating mental health issues as well. This is why we still need much more research on the efficacy and safety of psychedelics to help terminally ill patients approach their death with spiritual well-being.