Magic mushrooms to treat cancer anxiety?

By Alfa · Jul 15, 2008 ·
  1. Alfa
    July 14th, 2008
    Posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 9:55 am
    ZDNet Blog

    In a 2006 study, U.S. researchers have shown that psilocybin, a substance contained in ’sacred mushrooms,’ produced substantial spiritual effects — when administered under controlled conditions. The scientists recently interviewed the volunteer subjects and they’ve noted that most of them ‘continued to say 14 months later that the experience increased their sense of well-being or life satisfaction.’ These lasting benefits of ‘magic mushroom’ therapy — which included a single dose — are giving new ideas to the researchers. Why not using hallucinogens to treat cancer-related anxieties? New studies are being planned to answer this question and the researchers are recruiting volunteers. But read more…

    You can see on the left two pictures of “the living room-like session room used in the Johns Hopkins hallucinogen research studies. Aesthetically pleasing environments such as this, free of extraneous medical or research equipment, in combination with careful volunteer screening, volunteer preparation and interpersonal support from two or more trained monitors, may help to minimize the probability of acute psychological distress during hallucinogen studies. For studies that investigate potential therapeutic effects or the phenomenology of introspective hallucinogen experiences, the use of eyeshades and headphones (through which supportive music is played) may contribute to safety by reducing the distractions of environmental stimuli and social pressures to verbally interact with research personnel.” (Credit: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)

    This study was led by Roland Griffiths, Professor of Behavioral Biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland. Additional researchers who contributed to this work include William Richards, Matthew W. Johnson and Una McCann of the Johns
    Hopkins Medical Institutions and Robert Jesse, a founder of the Council on Spiritual Practices, San Francisco.

    Here is a quote from Griffiths about the lasting effects of a single administration of psilocybin, a plant alkaloid found in hundreds of species of mushrooms. “‘This is a truly remarkable finding,’ Griffiths says. ‘Rarely in psychological research do we see such persistently positive reports from a single event in the laboratory. This gives credence to the claims that the mystical-type experiences some people have during hallucinogen sessions may help patients suffering from cancer-related anxiety or depression and may serve as a potential treatment for drug dependence. We’re eager to move ahead with that research.’”

    For more information, this research work has been published online on July 1, 2008 by the Journal of Psychopharmacology under the title “Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin mediate the attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance 14 months later.” Here are two links to the abstract and to prepublication version of this paper (PDF format, 12 pages, 613 KB).

    Here is an excerpt from the introduction of this paper. “We previously reported the effects of a double-blind study evaluating the psychological effects of a high psilocybin dose. This report presents the 14-month follow-up and examines the relationship of the follow-up results to data obtained at screening and on drug session days. Participants were 36 hallucinogen-naïve adults reporting regular participation in religious/spiritual activities. Oral psilocybin (30 mg/70 kg) was administered on one of two or three sessions, with methylphenidate (40 mg/70 kg) administered on the other session(s). During sessions, volunteers were encouraged to close their eyes and direct their attention inward. At the 14-month follow-up, 58% and 67%, respectively, of volunteers rated the psilocybin-occasioned experience as being among the five most personally meaningful and among the five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives; 64% indicated that the experience increased well-being or life satisfaction; 58% met criteria for having had a ‘complete’ mystical experience.”

    The research team also wrote some guidelines about the safe clinical use of hallucinogens. They also have been published online on July 1, 2008 by the Journal of Psychopharmacology under the title “Human hallucinogen research: guidelines for safety.” Here are two links to the abstract and to prepublication version of this paper (PDF format, 18 pages, 588 KB). The above pictures and their captions have been picked from this document.

    Here is an excerpt from the introduction of this paper. “Although hallucinogens are relatively safe physiologically and are not considered drugs of dependence, their administration involves unique psychological risks. The most likely risk is overwhelming distress during drug action (‘bad trip’), which could lead to potentially dangerous behaviour such as leaving the study site. Less common are prolonged psychoses triggered by hallucinogens. Safeguards against these risks include the exclusion of volunteers with personal or family history of psychotic disorders or other severe psychiatric disorders, establishing trust and rapport between session monitors and volunteer before the session, careful volunteer preparation, a safe physical session environment and interpersonal support from at least two study monitors during the session. Investigators should probe for the relatively rare hallucinogen persisting perception disorder in follow-up contact. Persisting adverse reactions are rare when research is conducted along these guidelines.”

    Sources: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine news release, July 1, 2008; and various websites

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