BALTIMORE (WJZ) ― A cancer diagnosis is news no one wants. It can be devastating and depressing. But could tripping on acid help cancer patients cope with their illness? A local doctor thinks so and he's testing his theories on real cancer patients right here in Maryland.
You've heard about medicinal marijuana, but what about medical magic mushrooms and even medical LSD?
"And I felt like I was being taken now onto a journey," said Sandy Lundahl.
Where Lundahl went was the result of a hallucination and part of medical research done by Dr. Roland Griffiths from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The research examines whether drugs that cause hallucinations could actually help cancer patients.
"This is not a cure for cancer, but it is an intervention that back in the '60s people found very helpful for terminal cancer patients," Griffiths said.
Rampant use and abuse of drugs like mushrooms and LSD in the '60s led to a government crackdown because, if unsupervised, hallucinations can be dangerous. In some people, they can cause flashbacks, intense fear and panic that could even lead to suicide.
"These are not drugs that can be used lightly," Griffiths said.
Griffiths got rare government permission to conduct tests right here in Maryland using psilocybin, the active ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms.
Before testing cancer patients, tests had to be done on healthy volunteers like Sandy, who signed up and swallowed two pills.
"It wasn't one piece of it but the whole of that experience...there's no other word to call it but spiritual," she said.
Like many others who try hallucinogens, at first Sandy described what she called a kaleidoscope of colors. But then she says she saw the planet, space, rivers and mountains, then a journey into the past.
"I could see ancient people," she said. "I saw a temple...I saw the processional of Jesus Christ coming down the road and I felt like I was in the crowd."
Then the hallucinations took her into her own past. She began crying when she revisited her father's death.
"In the session, I actually could feel the full impact of his death and how I just really missed him," she said.
So how can an experience like Sandy's help someone with cancer? Dr. Griffiths says about 60% of the volunteers said their hallucinations were spiritual and brought long-lasting positive changes in mood and attitude.
"An effect of this sort would be very, very useful to someone who is in distress because of a cancer diagnosis," he said, "and get people to live more fully in the time they have available."
With the success of the first phase, Dr. Griffiths is now looking for cancer patients to continue his hallucinogenic study.
By Derek Valcourt
Nov 12, 2008 11:28 pm US/Eastern
(© MMVIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc.)
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