In a recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers found that a one-time, single-dose treatment of psilocybin, a compound found in psychedelic mushrooms, combined with psychotherapy may lead to strong improvements in emotional and existential distress in cancer patients.
These effects persisted nearly five years after the drug was administered.
The study is from NYU Grossman School of Medicine. One author is Stephen Ross, M.D.
Previously, the team had found psilocybin produced immediate, substantial, and sustained improvements in anxiety and depression, improved spiritual well-being, and increased quality of life.
At the final 6.5-month follow-up assessment, psilocybin was linked to enduring antianxiety and antidepressant effects.
Approximately 60% to 80% of participants continued with strong reductions in depression or anxiety, sustained benefits in existential distress and quality of life, as well as improved attitudes toward death.
The current study is a long-term follow-up of a subset of participants from the original study.
The participants reported on sustained reductions in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, demoralization, and death anxiety at both follow-up points.
The team found about 60% to 80% of participants met the criteria for clinically significant antidepressant or anxiolytic responses at the 4.5-year follow-up.
Participants overwhelmingly (71% to 100%) attributed positive life changes to the psilocybin-assisted therapy experience and rated it among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives.
The researchers say psilocybin may provide a useful tool for enhancing the effectiveness of psychotherapy and ultimately relieving these symptoms.
Although the precise mechanisms are not fully understood, they believe that the drug can make the brain more flexible and receptive to new ideas and thought patterns.
In addition, the drug targets a network of the brain, the default mode network. In patients with anxiety and depression, this network becomes hyperactive and is associated with rumination, worry, and rigid thinking.
Psilocybin appears to acutely shift activity in this network and helps people to take a more broadened perspective on their behaviors and lives.
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