Psilocybin May Provide Swift Relief From Depression, Anxiety in Cancer Patients

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Researchers found that the hallucinogenic drug relieves depression and anxiety quickly, and that the effect can last for months.
Researchers found that the hallucinogenic drug relieves depression and anxiety quickly, and that the effect can last for months.

HealthDay News — A single dose of psilocybin can quickly lifts the spirits of cancer patients, and the effect can last as long as 6 months, according to 2 studies published online Dec. 1 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

In one study, researchers led by Roland Griffiths, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, treated 51 adults with life-threatening cancer with a low dose of psilocybin followed 5 weeks later with a higher dose of the drug. Most patients experienced relief from their anxiety and depression that lasted up to 6 months, the researchers found.

In the second study, a team led by Stephen Ross, MD, of the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, randomly assigned 29 patients with advanced cancer to either a single dose of psilocybin or the vitamin niacin. Among 80% of the patients, psilocybin rapidly brought relief from distress. Moreover, the effect lasted for more than 6 months, based on test scores for anxiety and depression, the researchers found.

"Our results represent the strongest evidence to date of a clinical benefit from psilocybin therapy, with the potential to transform care for patients with cancer-related psychological distress," Ross said in a Langone news release. "If larger clinical trials prove successful, then we could ultimately have available a safe, effective, and inexpensive medication dispensed under strict control to alleviate the distress that increases suicide rates among cancer patients."

References

1. Griffiths RR, Johnson MW, Carducci MA, et al. Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxietey in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trialJ Psychopharmacol. 2016;30(12):1181-1197. doi:10.1177/0269881116675513.

2. Ross S, Bossis A, Guss J, et al. Rapid and sustained symptom reduction follwoing psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: a randomized controlled trial. J Psychopharmacol. 2016;30(12):1165-1180. doi:10.1177/0269881116675512.

3. Nutt D. Psilocybin for anxiety and depression in cancer care? Lessons from the past and prospects for the future. J Psychopharmacol. 2016;30(12):1163-1164. doi:10.1177/0269881116675754.

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