This study (n=51) investigated the effects of a high dose of psilocybin (22 or 30mg/70kg) on depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer. It found significant improvements in clinician- and self-administered measures of depression and anxiety, even without psychotherapy (as many other studies provide). At 6-month follow-up, these changes were sustained, with about 80% of participants continuing to show clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety.
Abstract of Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer
“Cancer patients often develop chronic, clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety. Previous studies suggest that psilocybin may decrease depression and anxiety in cancer patients. The effects of psilocybin were studied in 51 cancer patients with life-threatening diagnoses and symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. This randomized, double-blind, cross-over trial investigated the effects of a very low (placebo-like) dose (1 or 3 mg/70 kg) vs. a high dose (22 or 30 mg/70 kg) of psilocybin administered in counterbalanced sequence with 5 weeks between sessions and a 6-month follow-up. Instructions to participants and staff minimized expectancy effects. Participants, staff, and community observers rated participant moods, attitudes, and behaviors throughout the study. 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. At 6-month follow-up, these changes were sustained, with about 80% of participants continuing to show clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and 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. Community observer ratings showed corresponding changes. Mystical-type psilocybin experience on session day mediated the effect of psilocybin dose on therapeutic outcomes.”
Notes on Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer
This paper is included in our ‘Top 10 Articles Introducing Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy‘
The article was published in the same edition of the Journal of Psychopharmacology as Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized controlled trial
This study is included in a meta-analysis by Goldberg et al. (2020) – effect psilocybin on anxiety and depression, and another meta-analysis by Vargas et al. (2020) – effect psilocybin on anxiety and depression at end-of-life.
“Briefly, preparation meetings before the first session, which included discussion of meaningful aspects of the participant’s life, served to establish rapport and prepare the participant for the psilocybin sessions. During sessions, monitors were nondirective and supportive, and they encouraged participants to “trust, let go and be open” to the experience. Meetings after sessions generally focused on novel thoughts and feelings that arose during sessions.”
Although the level of support was much less directive, the effects (>80% endorsing moderately or greater increased well-being/life satisfaction.) indicate that possibly psychotherapy may not be a necessary requirement for treating patients (of this rather extreme population) with such level of attention towards the talk-therapy part of the treatment.
It is interesting to note that the adverse effects (vomiting, and ‘personal reasons’) were too high at 30mg/70kg, so the dose was reduced to 22mg/70kg for all participants after the first three participants. The same applied to the low (placebo) dose that was lowered from 3 to 1mg/70kg because there were already significant effects at that dose.
“When administered under psychologically supportive, double-blind conditions, a single dose of psilocybin produced substantial and enduring decreases in depressed mood and anxiety along with increases in quality of life and decreases in death anxiety in patients with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. Ratings by patients themselves, clinicians, and community observers suggested these effects endured at least 6 months. The overall rate of clinical response at 6 months on clinician-rated depression and anxiety was 78% and 83%, respectively. A multisite study in a larger and more diverse patient population should be conducted to establish the generality and safety of psilocybin treatment of psychological distress associated with life-threatening cancer.”
Summary of Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer
Cancer patients often develop a chronic syndrome of psychosocial distress, with depressed mood, anxiety, and reduced quality of life as core features. Although psychological approaches have shown only small to medium effects in treating emotional distress and quality of life, with low quality of reporting in many trials, there are several promising interventions utilizing existential orientations to psychotherapy.
The classic hallucinogens, which include psilocybin (psilocin) and (+)-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), are a structurally diverse group of compounds that are 5-HT2A receptor agonists and produce a unique profile of changes in thoughts, perceptions, and emotions. Two recent double-blind, placebo-controlled studies showed promising trends toward decreased psychological distress in patients with life-threatening illnesses, including cancer
The present study provides the most rigorous evaluation to date of the efficacy of a classic hallucinogen for the treatment of depressed mood and anxiety in psychologically distressed cancer patients. The study evaluated a range of clinically relevant measures using a double-blind cross-over design to compare a very low psilocybin dose (intended as a placebo) to a moderately high psilocybin dose in 51 participants.
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Griffiths, R. R., Johnson, M. W., Carducci, M. A., Umbricht, A., Richards, W. A., Richards, B. D., ... & Klinedinst, M. A. (2016). Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. Journal of psychopharmacology, 30(12), 1181-1197.
Authors associated with this publication with profiles on BlossomRoland Griffiths
Roland R. Griffiths is one of the strongest voices in psychedelics research. With over 400 journal articles under his belt and as one of the first researchers in the psychedelics renaissance, he has been a vital part of the research community.
Matthew Johnson is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. His research is concerned with addiction medicine, drug abuse, and drug dependence.
Institutes associated with this publicationJohns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University (Medicine) is host to the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, which is one of the leading research institutes into psychedelics. The center is led by Roland Griffiths and Matthew Johnson.
The psychedelics given at which dose and how many timesPsilocybin 22 - 30
mg | 2x
Linked Research Papers
Notable research papers that build on or are influenced by this paperRapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized controlled trial
This double-blind placebo-controlled study (n=29) for those suffering from anxiety and depression, related to cancer, improved significantly (60-80% of participants) after a single dose of psilocybin (21mg/70kg) in combination with psychotherapy.
Linked Clinical TrialPsychopharmacology of Psilocybin in Cancer Patients
This research is being done to study the psychological effects of psilocybin in cancer patients. Psilocybin is a naturally occurring substance found in some mushrooms that some cultures have used for centuries in religious practices.