Mushroom therapy is a new area that researchers at NYU Lagone Medical Center have been recently studying. By examining “magic” mushrooms, their aim is to see if the active ingredient in them, Psilocybin, can help reduce depression or anxiety. Does the study bear merit? Or is it another hallucination?
Mushroom Therapy – Initial Research
According to the NY Times, about 80% of cancer patients showed clinically significant reductions in depression and anxiety. The results held for about seven months after a single dose. Subjects of the small, controlled study showed minimal side-effects. In both trials, the intensity of the mystical experience described by patients correlated with the degree to which their depression and anxiety decreased. The studies New York University and Johns Hopkins University studies were released concurrently in The Journal of Psychopharmacology.
The NY Times also stated that Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, a past president of the American Psychiatric Association, and Dr. Daniel Shalev of the New York State Psychiatric Institute are among leaders in psychiatry, addiction medicine and palliative care who endorsed the work. The studies, they wrote, are “a model for revisiting criminalized compounds of interest in a safe, ethical way.” If research restrictions could be eased, they continued, “there is much potential for new scientific insights and clinical applications.”
The road for shrooms to go from illegal, controlled drug to a beneficial medicine is still many years away.
Mushroom Therapy – Early Doubts
Dr. William Breitbart, chairman of the psychiatry department at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, questioned the ethics of the study. He said, “Medical marijuana got its foot in the door by making the appeal that cancer patients are suffering. They’re near death, so for compassionate purposes, let’s make it available.”
He was concerned that mushrooms could pass through screening and could have potential for abuse.
Other criticisms include the argument that long term effects are as yet unknown. They are most likely minimal. When thinking of it logically, if mushrooms prevented long-term depression, anyone who used them, especially repeatedly, would never or rarely suffer from depression or anxiety. You only need to meet many former users to see that this clearly isn’t the case.
In addition, people with substance use disorders or a history of addiction may find ways to abuse mushrooms if they become legalized.
Mushroom Therapy – A History of Psilocybin
Hallucinogens have been studying by hundreds of scientists and doctors. In the 1940’s and 1905’s, they were thought to help with psychotherapy. They were even used discretely by the CIA to interrogate people and to conduct mind-control studies.
The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, or Controlled Substances Act in 1970, made mushrooms, LSD, and similar related drugs category 1 scheduled controlled substances. Research on their beneficial aspects nearly stopped.
Since about 2000 private funding has mainly been used to study the substances. UCLA was among the projects that used cancer patients to create studies on psilocybin effects.
Psilocybin has been illegal in the United States for more than 40 years.