According to the research, a single dose of psilocybin mushrooms may help people with severe depression and/or anxiety.
The doom hung like an anvil over her head. In 2012, a few years after Carol Vincent was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, she was waiting to see whether her cancer would progress enough to require chemotherapy or radiation. The disease had already done a number on her, inflating lymph nodes on her chin, collar bones, and groin. She battled her symptoms while running her own marketing business. To top it all off, she was going through menopause.
“Life is just pointless stress, and then you die,” she thought. “All I’m doing is sitting here waiting for all this shit to happen.”
When one day at an intersection she mulled whether it would be so bad to get hit by a car, she realized her mental health was almost as depleted as her physical state.
That’s when her 27-year-old son sent her a link to an invitation from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, seeking cancer patients to sign up to take psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, to alleviate their anxiety and depression. “Start thinking about all the existential questions you want to ponder while your window is open to the universe!” her son wrote.
Vincent, who is 5 foot 1 and 61 years old, has never been a big drug user. She doesn’t like taking aspirin, and the one time she used cocaine in her 20s, she fainted. But she’s taken other risks—she was a sky-diver for 10 years—and she figured there was a chance the experience might “reboot” her. She signed up and, after being screened, flew down to Baltimore from her home in British Columbia.
The results of Vincent’s mushroom trip—and those of 79 other study subjects like her—are now being made public, and they’re very encouraging. A pair of randomized, blinded studies published Thursday in The Journal of Psychopharmacology provide the most robust evidence to date that a single dose of psilocybin can provide relief from the anxiety and gloom associated with cancer for at least six months.
Roughly 40 percent of people with cancer suffer from a mood disorder, which increases their risk of suicide and impairs treatment. Evidence they can be helped by antidepressants is weak. “People are facing their own mortality, their own demise,” said Roland Griffiths, a professor at the the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the lead author of one of the studies. “That’s a very special and
Vincent describes her six-hour trip as “spectacularly gorgeous” and “beyond words.” She saw a sea of green and purple shapes, then a deep-space emptiness with a monolithic presence, similar to the Borg Collective from Star Trek. At one point, a series of Egyptian ships and Russian dolls paraded before her. As she laughed and wept, something popped out at her from the mental kaleidoscope: A small, creamy-white, animated crab.
“It’s Cancer the crab,” she thought later, referring to the zodiac sign. “It could have been a big, horrifying monster crab that was about to tear me up and eat me. But it wasn’t, it was comic relief. There is still humor in life, there’s still beauty in life.”