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

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.”

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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.