"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.