Monday, January 9, 2017

A Hallucinogen Reduces Anxiety and Depression in Cancer Patients

Two well designed studies published simultaneously by research teams at New York University and Johns Hopkins University have both come to the same conclusion: that a single dose of a powerful hallucinogen reduces anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancers. The hallucinogen, known as psilocybin, is the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms". Nearly 80% of the patients reported feeling better following their hallucinogenic experience. The most striking finding was that they felt better for a long time - more than six months, in fact.

The federal government doesn't allow the use of public funds for research into the possible therapeutic uses of criminalized drugs. However, the research itself isn't banned. The present studies were funded largely from private sources after careful review by university research panels and federal regulators.

No one is suggesting that psilocybin should be made widely available to cancer patients. Nor is anyone suggesting (yet) that psilocybin should be used to treat general anxiety and depression. Still, the very long-lasting effect on anxiety and depression of a single hallucinogenic dose of psilocybin is intriguing. We need to know more about how this hallucinogen works. What if, for example a closely related drug could be found that reduces anxiety and depression, without the initial hallucinogenic effect?  Now, that would be a blockbuster drug.

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