How 'Magic' Mushrooms Could Help Cancer Patients

Psilocybin from psychedelic mushrooms may reduce anxiety, depression in cancer patients


A single dose of an illegal, hallucinogenic drug could help cancer patients in a big way.

That's according to a recent study, which looked at the effects of psilocybin — the main hallucinogenic compound in psychedelic mushrooms — on anxiety and depression in cancer patients.

Patients often face severe depression and anxiety when they find out they have cancer. Researchers often study methods and treatments that could improve quality of life for these patients.

And according to the authors of the current study, led by Roland Griffiths, PhD, a professor of psychiatry, behavioral sciences and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Campus, psilocybin could be one of those treatments.

And its effects could last as long as six months, Dr. Griffiths and colleagues found.

These researchers studied 51 cancer patients who received either a low or moderate-high dose of psilocybin. They followed up with these patients roughly five weeks later and a final time six months later.

At five weeks, the moderate-high-dose patients reported much less anxiety and depression than the low-dose patients, Dr. Griffiths and team found. That effect on mood and outlook appeared to persist six months later.

While other factors could have interfered with these findings, this study suggests that one dose of psilocybin could help improve cancer patients' mental health.

But that doesn't mean you should reach for the nearest wild mushroom to improve your mood. In fact, you should really, definitely not do that. For one, it's illegal. And accidentally ingesting the wrong kind of mushroom can poison you. Brown University warns on its website that doses can be difficult to measure — psilocybin isn't always evenly distributed among different mushrooms — which can lead to bad trips, or disturbing experiences that can have negative mental health impacts.

Also, if you have a history of or are at risk for mental illness, taking hallucinogens can trigger latent disorders like depression and schizophrenia, according to Brown.

In short, magic mushrooms might have some clinical uses, but doing your own field research could put you at risk. Leave it to the researchers.

This study was published Dec. 10 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Information on funding sources and conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.