Should We Give Cancer Patients 'Magic Mushrooms'?

It might not be a bad idea, a recent study shows

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According to a new study, psilocybin, the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" has a beneficial psychological impact on terminal cancer patients. Researchers in Los Angeles found that the hallucinogen reduced anxiety and depression, giving patients peace in their final days. The experiment involved 12 subjects with advanced-stage cancer between the ages of 36 and 58. While some are skeptical of the pilot study, others are hailing a new era of psilocybin testing.

  • Here's How They Did the Study, writes Rosemary Black at The New York Daily News: "The patients had two sessions apiece. In one, they received psilocybin and in the other, they got a placebo. The patients and doctors were able to tell which drug was administered about 80% of the time. For the study, which was reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry, the patients got a fairly low dose of the drug. In addition to feeling less anxious, they reported needing fewer narcotic pain relievers."

  • A Huge Success, writes Claire McCormack at Time: "The results demonstrated a substantial improvement in symptoms of anxiety and at six months recorded a statistically significant improvement on one depression scale. This outcome indicates that the study may be the first step in restoring the drug's flawed reputation from the 1960s and 1970s when it was widely abused for non-medical reasons."

  • Well, Not Quite, writes Scott Hensley at NPR: "This study, billed as a pilot test, had some flaws, most notably that each patient served as his or her own point of comparison, or control. And the researchers concede that it was pretty much impossible for the patients not to know pretty quickly whether they were getting the drug or the dummy medicine in a given session. Also, among the patients, all volunteers, eight had previously taken hallucinogenic drugs. Four of them had tried such drugs decades before the experiment."

  • A Relatively Untapped Resource, writes Anne Harding at "Psychiatrists and psychologists began exploring the effects of hallucinogens on the mood and anxiety of dying patients in the 1950s, but the research stopped abruptly when psilocybin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and other mind-altering drugs were outlawed in the 1970s. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a handful of small studies involving hallucinogens since the 1990s, but the field is still emerging."

  • Open This Up to the Public, demands Mark Kleiman at The Reality-Based Community: "The fact that it will take at least another five years before patients have legal access to a safe procedure that might improve their dying is an outrage. 'First, do no harm' is a good rule; isn't withholding beneficial treatment harmful? But that's just me: I've always been the impatient type."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.