Is Psilocybin the Better Antidepressant?
Psychoactive mushrooms, commonly known as "magic mushrooms", are primarily used as an awareness-enhancing drug. The substance psilocybin is responsible for the intoxication effect. A current study shows that taking psilocybin once has an anxiolytic and antidepressant effect that lasts up to five years.
As early as 2016, researchers announced that the hallucinogenic active ingredient psilocybin has a possible effect against depression and anxiety. Following the study, the NYU Grossman School of Medicine research team found that a single treatment with psilocybin in combination with psychotherapy can alleviate the emotional and existential suffering of cancer patients. The effects lasted for almost five years. The results were recently presented in the "Journal of Psychopharmacology".
Psilocybin gave cancer sufferers new hope
In the first study in 2016, the research team associated psilocybin with immediate, substantial, and sustainable improvements in anxiety and depression. In cancer patients, this led to a decline in general demoralization and hopelessness, and to an improvement in mental well-being and quality of life. The fear of impending death was also alleviated.
Effect still demonstrable after more than four years
In the current long-term study, this effect was observed over a longer period. Follow-up followed three and 4.5 years after a single dose of psilocybin. 60 to 80 percent of participants continued to benefit from a clinically significant antidepressant effect 4.5 years after treatment. Participants reported a continuing reduction in anxiety (including fear of death), depression, hopelessness, and demoralization. Over 70 percent rated the treatment as a personally significant and spiritual life experience.
A paradigm shift in psychological care
"Our results, which add to the knowledge already gained in the 1950s, strongly suggest that psilocybin therapy is a promising means of improving the emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being of patients with life-threatening cancer," emphasizes Professor Dr. Stephen Ross, the study’s senior psychiatrist. This approach has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in the psychological and existential care of cancer patients.
Antidepressants are not very effective in cancer
An alternative means of treating cancer-related anxiety and depression is urgently needed, according to Ross. Because a third of all people with cancer also suffer from anxiety and / or depression and other forms of stress. This goes hand in hand with a reduced quality of life, an increased suicide rate and ultimately a lower survival rate. According to Ross, conventional pharmacological treatment methods such as antidepressants only work for less than half of those affected. In addition, antidepressants would have no effect on existential fear of death.
Effects not yet sufficiently understood
Ross points out that the reasons why psilocybin has this antidepressant effect are not yet well understood. The researchers are currently assuming that the active ingredient will make the brain more flexible and thus more receptive to new ideas and thought patterns.
Previous studies have shown that the active ingredient targets a network in the brain that is also active in self-reflection and thought wandering. This network is downright hyperactive for patients suffering from anxiety or depression. This in turn is associated with brooding, worry and rigid thinking. Psilocybin appears to be acutely shifting activity on this network, helping people to see their behavior and life from a different perspective. (vb)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek
- Gabrielle I. Agin-Liebes, Tara Malone, Matthew M. Yalch, et al .: Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for psychiatric and existential distress in patients with life-threatening cancer; in: Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2020, journals.sagepub.com
- NYU Grossman School of Medicine: Antianxiety and antidepressant effects from a single dose of psychedelic drug persist years later in cancer patients (published 01/28/2020), eurekalert.org