"Magic Mushrooms" Show Signs of Helping in Addiction, Cancer Anxiety

The always-interesting Maia Szalavitz at Time with the latest in research into the benefits of (illegal) psychedelic mushrooms:

In research presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) scientists highlighted the latest findings on the use of psilocybin, the synthetic version of the active compound in “magic mushrooms,” as a treatment for anxiety in terminal cancer patients, in smoking cessation and as a treatment for alcoholism.

Some of the studies are not complete and have not yet been reviewed by other experts, but they provide new information on psilocybin’s effect....

In its ongoing program of psilocybin research, scientists at Johns Hopkins have treated over 150 volunteers in 350 drug trial sessions.  Although many participants experienced at least some type of anxiety reaction while on the drug, none of them reported lasting harm and 70% rated the experience as one of the top five most meaningful events of their lives, comparable to the birth of a first child or the loss of a parent....

UCLA’s [Dr. Charles] Grob studied 12 cancer patients with end-stage disease, aged 18 through 70, all of whom were highly anxious in facing death.  They were given preparatory therapy sessions so that they would know what to expect while under the influence of psilocybin, and then had two sessions a month apart, one with placebo and one with psilocybin.  The vitamin niacin was used in a high dose as the placebo, because it produces a physiological sensation of burning or itching on the face that is harmless but produces some “drug” effect....

“Nobody had a significant anxiety reaction or ‘bad trip’” Grob reported, citing data he published in the Archives of General Psychiatry on the research in 2011....

The studies on smoking cessation and on alcoholism have only just begun, but show encouraging results in a small group of volunteers. Says Paul Kenny, associate professor of neuroscience at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, and a member of program committee for the ACNP meeting, “The potential beneficial effects of psilocybin on addiction is an important question that should thoroughly explored...."

Kenny goes on in a scientistic, "let's make an industry out of this" way to say it would be better if they can develop new drugs that mimic the "good" parts of the mushroom without the hallucinogenic part, though he acknowledged that might not be possible. 

Fitting that this article appears in Time as its founder Henry Luce enjoyed psychedelics himself.

Jacob Sullum and me from 2006 on earlier research into the spiritual uses of the mushroom.

Maia Szalavitz's work discussed at Reason.

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  • LTC(ret) John||

    "in smoking cessation and as a treatment for alcoholism."

    If it really does that, it will turn prohibitionist nannies into pretzel knots as they grapple in combat with the treatment/addiction complex.

  • SugarFree||

    LSD trials showed promise in those areas as well, before the hammer came down.

  • Scarcity||

    Nope, the nannies couldn't care less. What was their approach to snus again? You know, that substance that is drastically safer than smoking and helps people quit smoking? They champion snus use for smokers, right. And e-cigs? Same thing right?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • $park¥||

    the use of psilocybin, the synthetic version of the active compound in "magic mushrooms," as a treatment for anxiety in terminal cancer patients, in smoking cessation and as a treatment for alcoholism.

    Wait, taking psychotropic drugs makes you care less about your problems? This IS big news!

  • ||

    "Oh, it's not the speed really so much, I just wish I hadn't drunk all that cough syrup this morning."

  • robc||

    There was a study from the early 60s showing that LSD was useful in the treatment of alcoholism.

    A recent followup on those treated showed an amazingly low recedivism rate.

  • Sudden||

    Timothy Leary also did some guided acid trips with criminals and cut the recidivism rate in half. I'm not sure how solid the methodology is on it, and I'm frankly always a bit skeptical of attributing wonderful effects to recreational hallucinogen usage, but figured I'd note it anyway.

  • Zeb||

    If it is a guided trip for a therapeutic purpose, should it really be called recreational usage?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    No, it should be called Shamanism.

  • Sudden||

    Fair enough. I wasn't critiquing the study itself, but rather the conflating of a therapeutic, clinical, and guided process with a recreational usage.

    I think given an appropriate setting and a clinical application, there may be some profound benefits. But the idea that the average 19 year old scoring a sugar cube or eighth of shrooms is going to achieve some deep seated enlightenment about himself and his role in the world is a bit less plausible.

  • Zeb||

    I don't know. I think I did that with acid when I was 17. Not to say that I had everything figured out, but I did have an experience that basically put me on the path to the way I see the world and my place in it that was very different from where I was before. Who knows. But I think that there is something in between pure recreation (woo, party) and totally clinical use. I suppose "Shamanism" might be a good word for some, as HM suggests.

  • hotsy totsy||

    The Manson Family would've been interesting candidates.

  • Scarcity||

    Well that's, that's, that's because all those acid-heads are too messed up to even FIND a liquor store anymore!

  • robc||

    I cant find the study I originally saw, but one looking at a group of studies found a single hit of LSD provided significant benefit compared to a placebo for 3 to 6 months.

    So, it doesnt cure alcoholism, but if it can get you off booze for a few months, that is a long way towards solving the problem.

  • Zeb||

    The thing about hallucinogens is that they really don't make you care less about your problems. In the wrong setting, they can make you worry a whole lot more. But they also change the way you think about things, so I can see how the right kind of experience could do all these things.

  • sarcasmic||

    if they can develop new drugs that mimic the "good" parts of the mushroom without the hallucinogenic part

    Can you say oxymoron?

  • Brett L||

    Gee, maybe the part where your brain fires all funny and makes you see, hear, smell, and think shit that isn't really there is important to the "benefits". I'm just spitballing here.

  • $park¥||

    Dude, you're WAY off. There's no way a beneficial medication would make you feel all loopy and stuff. Just look at oxycodone.

  • ShagNasty||

    This is kind of a pet issue for me, as I've personally experienced the potential of psychedelics in treating depression, anxiety and addiction (all of which are problems I deal with.) I've taken over 20 different psychedelic drugs and have analyzed the psychedeic experience extensively.
    The two main ways that I think psychedelics help with psychological disorders, specifically addictions, is that they basically force the user to self-analyze, and they force you to care about what you discover. The two main ways that addicts can live with themselves is either they deny that they have a problem, or they admit it, but tell themselves that they don't care. Well something that putsyou in a mindet where you're going to have major insights about your personal shortcomings and be completely unable to push away the feelings that come with this awareness, its obviously going to have alot of potential to help you find the drive to overcome those shortcomings.

    But remember kids, drugs are bad.

  • Sudden||

    That's an interesting take. My own experiences with psychedelics have been purely recreational, and while there were moments within those that I became introspective or generally deep in thought, I wouldn't say I came to any deep revelations about myself in those times. However, the experiences I have had were extensive enough in their frequency and early enough in my life where it likely shaped some of my own intellectual development. One thing I'd say is that I am more introspective and analytical than most and yet balance it with being tuned into the world outside my head through empathy. Perhaps these characteristics developed to some degree as a consequence of my psychedelic use, and if that's the case, I can certainly see them as an area with potential for some people dealing with anxiety or depression or other things where they misattribute the underlying causes and instead focus on symptoms.

  • Zeb||

    I suppose I have only used psychedelics with mostly recreational intent, but it certainly did change the way I think and how I see myself in the world. I see them as extremely valuable drugs. They certainly have the potential to do psychological harm too, but I think that is mostly because of bad set and setting, not the drug per se. Another nice thing about psychededlics is that they are basically the opposite of addictive. I don't think I know anyone who liked tripping who didn't eventually come to the point where they had done it enough or only want to do it very rarely.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Yep. I had some amazing realizations on LSD, shrooms, and ketamine. It really changed who I was. I let go of a lot of anger, and some deep prejudices. I too, deal with depression and spent much of my 20's in a cloud of gloom and paranoia. Psychedelics helped me break through, and really lifted me out that cloud. I actually "died", experienced complete immersion in brilliant light, and reformed with a universal love for everything. It actually made me a happy person, and I don't really get into funks like I used to.

    But remember kids, drugs are bad.

  • IceTrey||

    Please list the drugs because I only know of 3 or 4. I've got a lot of catching up to do!

  • Sudden||

    Obviously, LSD and psilocybin are the go-tos among hallucinogens. Easier to find than the others generally speaking.

    But the most mind altering and expansive in my experience are mescaline (extract of peyote cactus) and DMT (extract of ayahuasca root).

  • sarcasmic||

    Tried mescaline once. Oh my was that nice.

  • Brandon||

    Ayahuasca is absurdly intense. Peyote is fun.

  • ShagNasty||

    I'll try to remember them all but i'll probably forget some

    Seretontergic Psychedelics:

    LSD
    DMT
    Mushrooms
    2C-E
    2C-I
    2C-P
    2C-C
    2C-B
    DOC
    4-HO-DET
    4-HO-DiPT
    4-HO-MiPT
    4-HO-DPT
    5-MeO-DALT
    4-AcO-DET
    4-AcO-MiPT
    25I-NBOMe
    25C-NBOMe

    Dissociatives:

    Salvia
    DXM
    Methoxetamine
    Ketamine
    4-MeO-PCP

  • Sudden||

    Having never dabbled in the dissociatives, I'm curious how those experiences differ from the serotontergic experiences. In my days on the rave scene as a youth, I saw enough k-holes to steer me away from experiencing ketamine.

  • ShagNasty||

    ketamine is rediculously pleasant at low doses. Provides a feeling of comfort not unlike opioids, and for that reason can be pretty addictive for some people. I've never K-holed, so i cant tell you about that. DXM is totally balls to the wall batshit fuck you in the brain crazy. Most people write it off because its an OTC cough suppressant but its one of the craziest I've done. Can be epic euphoria, mind-blowing terror, and everything in between, much like LSD. It affects more different parts of the brain than anything else I can think of, but its pretty safe, just dont mix it with anything. And the effects vary drastically based on dosage level, its allmost like 4 destinct drugs.

  • ShagNasty||

    Also you should definately research Ibogaine. The molecule contains a tryptamine structure that gives it 5HT2A (a subtype of seretonin receptor) agonism just like mushrooms, but it also works as an NMDA receptor antagonist, just like Ketamine. And for shits and giggles it also works as a kappa-opioid receptor agonist, which is the mechanism of action of Salvinorin A, the main ingredient in Salvia. This effect also causes it to prevent opiate withdrawls without causing an opiate high. It shows incredible promise in treating opiate dependance, rehabs using Ibogaine therapy are often several times more effective than those without. And its like, the most hardcore drug know to man, not something you do for fun.

  • Sudden||

    Damn, you certainly have a detailed understanding of the scientific/clinical aspects of these substances. As for Ibogaine, it sounds fascinating and it looks like there is a lot of literature out there about using the substance (with its psychoactive properties stripped) in treatment of opiate addiction.

    But the description of the psychoactive properties seems as intense as anything I've seen. If I ever feel the need to return to a hallucinogen, this may very well be the one I seek out.

  • ShagNasty||

    Oh yeah its intense, and did I mention it last for 2 days? Its pretty much the chemical equivalent of a vision quest. I read one account by a heroin addict who said he relived all of the major events that led to his addiction, traumatic childhood memories and such. It fucks you up so much that your trip sitter will have to help you pee, and you ABSOLUTELY must have a trip sitter for this one.

  • sarcasmic||

    I think I turned into a libertarian while on LSD.

  • Sudden||

    Then clearly you understand why it must be prohibited.

  • fried wylie||

    If anybody deserves to be exempt from substance control laws, it's terminal cancer patients.

  • Zeb||

    I'd say it's adult human beings.

  • sarcasmic||

    Somehow I wonder how giving hallucinogens to terminal cancer patients would result in anything other than a bad trip.

    I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE I'M GONNA DIE AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUGH!

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Because one of the sensations you have is "dying". It's a paradox, I suppose. But the "death" you experience is beautiful.

  • Sudden||

    The ancient Aztecs were the most prolific perpetrators of human sacrifice. Everyone in the culture had a certain expectation of the chance of death. By having this expectation, and having to confront it regularly, they were freed from concern about death and instead learned to embrace the moments that they live.

    Death is a concept that can be immensely stressful to people, but an analytical recognition of it and it's finality could lead a person to embrace the here and now more than they otherwise would.

  • $park¥||

    By having this expectation, and having to confront it regularly, they were freed from concern about death and instead learned to embrace the moments that they live.

    Most, if not all, pre-Christian civilizations existed this way. Death was generally celebrated and everyone was well aware of their mortality. Strangely enough, notions about death started to swing the other way just as Christianity was promising eternal happiness after death, for those who qualified anyway.

  • Sudden||

    Admittedly, most of the pre-Christian civilizations had some concept of an afterlife as well, so I don't think that alone explains the death anxiety that Christianity brought. And I think many of those civilizations had, while maybe not a heaven vs. hell, some sort of calculus for determining whether the afterlife would be a reward or punishment.

  • sarcasmic||

    One day I was trippin balls and looking at this poster and realized I was laying on my back, looking up at the sun from the bottom of a grave, with the tombstone at my feet.

  • ShagNasty||

    Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, died while tripping on acid.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Apparently psychedelic mushrooms are one of the most common types of mushrooms in my area. Unfortunately they look almost exactly like one of the other most common types of mushrooms in my area, which is a fatal type.

  • Sudden||

    Problem: meet solution

  • Scarcity||

    I'll profess ignorance here. Does the guinea pig somehow know and alert you to the difference, or is he used more literally as a "guinea pig"?

  • Sudden||

    Order a few, give them all the mushroom in question. Observe whether they die or they just go crazy.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    All the degenerate stoners in my area seem to have already exhausted the guinea pig supply.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Mushroom roulette!

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Brian, did you have too many shrooms to put up the alt-text?

  • Sudden||

    The lack of alt-text allows the newly-expanded psilocybin-addled mind to create it's own reality.

  • IceTrey||

    I thought psilocybin WAS the active ingredient in mushrooms.

  • Zeb||

    Of course it is. And the psychedelic experience is what reduces anxiety and addictive compulsions. God, people are silly.

  • Tim||

    If we can turn the stuff into something useless and inert then we can legalize it.

  • IceTrey||

    I don't understand your comment. Are you saying I'm silly? Did you read the article? They say psilocybin is the synthetic version of the active compound in “magic mushrooms” when it's actually the natural form.

  • ShagNasty||

    Psylocybin is 4-PO-DMT. This metabolizes into 4-HO-DMT, AKA Psylocin, which also is found in mushrooms. The psylocybin hits about 30 minutes after the psylocin, so the ratio determines how fast-hitting the trip is. Another interesting fact is that if you put DMT in the nutrient substrate of your mushroom grow, the shrooms absorb it and convert it into pslocybin and psylocin, creating more potent mushrooms. After Alexander Shulgin discovered this, he put DET (diethyltryptamine) in the substrate of his shrooms, and they absorbed it and made 4-PO and 4-HO-DET. DET and all of its analogues are synthetic compounds, so this discovery really blurs the lines between synthetic and natural.

  • Brandon||

    Magic mushrooms are fucking wonderful. And they make fucking wonderful.

  • Hyperion||

    I see what is happening here. People get legal weed and the next thing you know, they want legal shrooms. And they will start the same way, by makin up this medicinal value bull hockey. That's why weed is the gateway drug. You get it, then you want the hard stuff. We gots to nip this one in the bud. DEA needs new funding for flame throwers so they can march into forests and torch all fungus. Cause you know if they only torch the sillycibins, then the potheads will just find another shroom that gets them high, best just to torch all fungus now, for the children. We need a war on fungus! WOF!

  • $park¥||

    Next thing you know people are gonna be licking toads!

  • Zeb||

    I've actually got some dried toad venom that I have been waiting for the right time to try.

  • entropy||

    Fly Agaric.

    The one from Super Mario Bros that makes you all big and shit.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Some of the studies are not complete and have not yet been reviewed by other experts."

    We should probably wait for the peer review before we tell our friends and family to eat shrooms if they want to quit smoking.

    I'd be as happy as anyone if shrooms turn out to have some therapeutic value. It'd be a kick just to read on the label, "Warning: May cause drowsiness. Do not operate heavy machinery after taking. Do not look at yourself in the mirror."

  • ShagNasty||

    Studies from the 60's indicate that LSD has significant value in treating alcoholism, and the success of Ibogaine in treating opiate dependance is probably the most compelling evidence of the psychotheraputic value of psychedelics.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Were these peer reviewed studies?

    You can report all kinds of things you saw in a study before the paper was peer reviewed.

    I appreciate that some of these things might have therapeutic benefits, but I also know about fallibilism.

    Cite the paper after it's been peer reviewed. I don't mean to pick on you, but statements like "Studies from the 60's" is a pretty good example of what I'm talking about. There are authoritative studies out there. I've seen some of them. But I've never been convinced of anything just becasue somebody claimed there were "studies from the 60's".

    Were the "studies from the '60s" peer reviewed? Who conducted the studies you're referencing? Was it The Merry Pranksters?

    If you're gonna tell people to take shrooms to quit smoking in the name of libertarianism, on behalf of libertarians everywhere, please, at least wait for the peer review.

    You can find papers that say just about everything before they're peer reviewed. It's the ones that say the same thing after they're peer reviewed that become authoritative.

  • $park¥||

    After reading most of the comments here I can see why libertarians are so strange. Who know how long it's been since you guys have lived in the real world.

  • Zeb||

    Maybe this is the real world!

    Did I blow your mind yet?

  • IceTrey||

    Libertarianism isn't about living in the real world, it's about changing it.

  • Tim||

    What's this Niacin shit? It simulates a drug high? Bullshit let's ban that too.

  • Hyperion||

    Hide your Niacin! Seriously.

    I've always been a sort of gardening enthusiast, and one place I that I used to live, I had this stoner dude for a neighbor. I don't I think ever seen him one time that he wasn't stoned or drunk, or both. On occasion when I would be out working in my landscaping he would come over, and sometimes we would drink a couple of beers together.

    One day when he was over, I told him that Coleus leaves supposedly can give you a buzz. I really did hear this somewhere. I swear a couple of days later, I was out there and half of the leaves were gone off of my beautiful coleus plants!

  • crazyfingers||

    And LSD was the catalyst for the discovery of the double helix structure (DNA), probably the most important discovery since fire.

  • Voros McCracken||

    It's not so much the effects of LSD and shrooms that's the problem, it's the sitar that comes with it that needs to be regulated out of existence.

  • Hyperion||

    You get a free sitar when you do shrooms? Well, it could be much worse, you could get one of these:

    FTW?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • entropy||

    DUDE.

    Medical Mushrooms....

    Somebody jack a cancer patient up with Ketamine and see if he feels better about cancer.

  • wingnutx||

    Nice bunch of cubensis in the photo.

    Really easy to grow by that method, too.

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