Imagine: You’re in the midst of the greatest health battle of your life with cancer, and the prognosis is not good. Death could be right around the corner, and even if it isn’t, there’s always the threat of relapse after the hell of chemotherapy, surgery and recovery is over. You’re anxious. How could you possibly relax in a situation like this? You’re feeling the lowest you’ve ever felt in your life. How could you feel anything other than despair and hopelessness? The anxiety and depression are at a level that is debilitating. Your doctor sits you down and says all you have to do to make all of this emotional pain stop is take one pill. Would you do it?
Well, of course you would. And as it turns out, this was the offer many depressed and anxious cancer patients decided to take in real life. The only trick was that the pill launched them into an hours-long, mystical, mind-imploding, reality-bending psychedelic trip.
In two recent studies, patients with advanced or terminal cancer took one dose of psilocybin — the hallucinogenic compound found in magic mushrooms — in the hopes that the psychedelic trip would help cure their depression and anxiety. Just one day after the trip, patients reported feeling less anxious and depressed. Six months later, as many as 80 percent still felt better than they had before the took the magic pill. This wasn’t a regularly administered medication or therapy program — it was a single pill and a single trip — yet the positive effects were experienced almost immediately, and they lasted.
Dinah Bazer, one of the patients in the study, said that taking a single dose of psilocybin “changed how I wanted to live my life.” During her trip, she felt as if she was being “bathed in love” and described the trip as “overwhelming, amazing, wonderful.” Weeks and even years later, she still sometimes feels this immense love wash over her, and she has never felt her anxiety or fear return.
Humans have been ingesting magic mushrooms for religious and mystical experiences for thousands of years. Psilocybin produces an altered mindstate which is often characterized by a deep sense of connectedness, joy, reverence and peace, so much so some have even exhibited a personality shift towards increased openness since taking the drug. These increased capacities for openness were larger than changes seen in adults over decades of life experience.
Mushroom trips have been linked to decreased depression and anxiety and an increase in openness, and scientists are excited to learn more about their potential as treatment for mental illness. What makes psychedelics so exciting is that a single trip seems to have a radical effect on the mind, perspective and personal philosophy of the user. Treatment of this sort could drastically change the shape of psychology, therapy and psychiatry as we know it. It could also make mental healthcare a lot more affordable and accessible.
More studies on psilocybin are underway in the United States and Europe for alcoholism, tobacco addiction and treatment-resistant depression.
As excited as researchers are, they do note that harm is always possible when using psilocybin, especially outside a controlled laboratory setting. Short-term negative reactions to mushrooms can include headaches, nausea, vomiting, anxiety and paranoia. You never know exactly what you’re getting on the streets, either, and of course, magic mushrooms are still illegal in the United States. Who knows, though? Maybe in a few decades we’ll have no problem receiving magic mushroom prescriptions from psychiatrists for anxiety, depression and other problems.