A recent study published in the journal JAMA Oncology has found that a single dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can help reduce depression in cancer patients.
The phase 2 study, titled “Assessment of Psilocybin Therapy for Patients With Cancer and Major Depression Disorder,” was conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. It involved 30 cancer patients, both male and female, with curable and incurable cancer of an average age of 56.
Participants were separated into two groups and administered a one-time 25-milligram dose of psilocybin under medical supervision. Results showed that the drug was effective in treating depression symptoms in the patients.
The study specifically measured improvement using the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) and demonstrated that 50% of the patients experienced total remission of their depression symptoms. Additionally, 30% continued to show improvements in their symptoms eight weeks after the one-time treatment.
“To our knowledge, this is the first psilocybin therapy trial conducted in a community cancer setting rather than a psychiatric hospital or academic center,” investigators said.
“With an innovative study design of treating cohorts simultaneously, using 1 therapist per patient, and providing group therapy support, participants experienced clinically meaningful, rapid, and sustained improvement in symptoms of depression over 8 weeks following a single treatment of psilocybin therapy. This occurred in patients with both curable and metastatic cancer.”
The researchers noted that this was the first psilocybin therapy trial conducted in a community cancer setting, rather than a psychiatric hospital or academic centre. They also highlighted the innovative study design of treating cohorts simultaneously, using one therapist per patient, and providing group therapy support.
Lead investigator Dr Manish Agrawal, an oncologist, said he had never seen anything that could affect an individual’s emotional health and attitude towards themselves in such a short span.
Despite the impressive results, Dr Agrawal maintains that further studies are needed to fully understand the potential of psilocybin as a treatment for cancer depression. “I’m cautious because the days are still early and it’s not a magic bullet, but the stories of transformation are profound,” he said.