Psilocybin and Cancer Treatment

by | Nov 7, 2022 | Research

A growing topic in cancer treatment is the potential benefits of psilocybin. Cancer is a devastating disease that touches almost everyone in some way.

In the United States, cancer is the second leading cause of death, accounting for nearly 1 in 4 deaths.

According to the National Cancer Institute, roughly 1.8 million people are diagnosed with cancer in the United States every year. Of those, approximately 600,000 will die from the disease.

Statistics like these are what have pushed medical professionals to look for new, innovative treatment options. Options that could potentially improve patients’ quality of life, both mentally and physically.

One such option is psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in certain mushrooms. Psilocybin is just one of many naturally occurring entheogens that are currently being studied as potentially therapeutic medicines. The results are so promising, that terminal patients are fighting for access to these medicines so they won’t be considered criminals.

Psilocybin for End-of-Life Anxiety

A diagnosis of cancer is often accompanied by anxiety and fear, especially as patients near the end of their lives. A study on the effects of psilocybin in patients with life-threatening cancer is published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. The research found that a single dose of psilocybin could significantly reduce anxiety and depression in terminally ill cancer patients. What’s more, these effects persisted for up to six months after treatment.

“High-dose psilocybin produced large decreases in clinician- and self-rated measures of depressed mood and anxiety, along with increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism, and decreases in death anxiety.”

Participants attributed improvements in attitudes about life/self, mood, relationships, and spirituality to the high-dose experience, with >80% endorsing moderately or greater increased well-being/life satisfaction.”

A newly published review of existing research on psilocybin for treating existential distress associated with cancer, in the Psychology Aspects of Cancer, concluded that,

“The hallucinogen treatment model therefore offers a novel and potentially valuable approach  for addressing the existential crisis often observed in cancer patients, with the potential of  significantly improving overall quality of life and psychospiritual well-being for the time that remains in their lives.”

Coming to peace with the end of one’s life is a challenge faced by patients diagnosed with terminal cancer. It appears psilocybin may be able to help people reach that peace.

Psilocybin for Breast Cancer

New research on psilocybin and breast cancer published this year suggests a link between psilocybin and reduced tumor growth. Psilocybin-assisted therapy has shown significant reductions in depressive symptoms and improved quality of life scores.

This new study is the first of its kind to suggest psilocybin could be used to treat not just the psychological aspects of cancer but also the physical aspects.

“Based on my clinical experience, all patients with cancer can significantly benefit in some way from the appropriate use of cannabis and psilocybin. In the future, including these will be the standard of care; they both have safety profiles. While the research community is focused on the therapeutic effects in treating psychiatric conditions, Nicole’s case shows they impact physical conditions like cancer.”

– Dr. Dustin Sulak Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, and Integrative Medicine Specialist

While there is still much to learn about how psychedelics like psilocybin can be used in cancer treatment, the early research is positive. Psilocybin shows great promise as a way to reduce end-of-life anxiety and depression in cancer patients, as well as potentially reducing tumor growth.

However, before these treatments can be more widely available, further research is needed to confirm their efficacy and safety. Additionally, regulations need to be put into place so that patients who choose to undergo psilocybin therapy treatments are not considered criminals.