Following election day, we’ve learned that some jurisdictions have voted to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms (i.e., psychedelic or “magic” mushrooms), including Oregon and Washington D.C. To some, this may seem like a radical move. However, multiple recent studies have showed benefits of psilocybin for mental health therapy, especially for individuals with life-threatening diseases.

Perhaps one of the most promising uses of psilocybin is in the treatment of cancer-related mental health symptoms. Four individuals with cancer described their involvement with psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in a qualitative study at NYU. Here are some impactful quotes from their experiences: 

  • “I don’t have a fear of death – I mean, I don’t have any desire to die…I am more interested in life now more than ever before…death in itself does not scare me”
  • “[The psilocybin experience] brought my beliefs to life, made them real, something tangible and true – it made my beliefs more than something to think about, really something to lean on and look forward to.”
  • “I feel more contented and happy about my place in the world in all the things I’m doing.”

Not only do psilocybin mushrooms have anecdotal evidence to support their usefulness, many rigorous scientific trials have been conducted as well. 

In 2016, researchers at Johns Hopkins conducted a study with 51 cancer patients. Participants received psilocybin for the treatment of depression and/or anxiety associated with their cancer diagnosis. After 6 months of high-dose psilocybin treatment, cancer patients showed increases in quality of life, optimism, and relationship satisfaction. Additionally, patients experienced decreases in depressed mood and anxiety. 

Similarly, a 2011 study by UCLA researchers tested psilocybin in 12 individuals with advanced-stage cancer and anxiety. Within 1 month, participants exhibited decreases in anxiety. After 6 months, participants noted decreases in depressed mood.

Yet another study, this one by NYU researchers, used psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy to treat anxiety and depression in 29 cancer patients. The intervention provided both short-term and sustained (>6 months) effects. Short-term improvements included decreases in hopelessness, and increases in spirituality and quality of life. Longer-term benefits comprised of reductions in depression and anxiety, as well as improvements in quality of life and attitudes toward death.

For individuals dealing with cancer-related distress, psilocybin provides encouraging results. I am excited to see how it’s decriminalization in certain jurisdictions improves the lives of individuals with cancer across the United States.