A recently completed pilot study suggests that mood can be improved in some patients by administering moderate doses of hallucinogens — a therapeutic option that was once the subject of intense study but had lost mainstream focus in recent years.
Currently published online in the Archives of General Psychiatry, the study explored the safety and efficacy of administering moderate doses of the hallucinogen psilocybin in patients with advanced stage cancer and anxiety.
Authors noted that “safe physiological and psychological responses were documented during treatment sessions. There were no clinically significant adverse events with psilocybin.”
Background offered by the authors suggests that research revolving around the use of hallucinogens was carried out from the 1950s to 1970s as a potential treatment for the feelings of despair and isolation often experienced by patients with advanced cancer. The research was later put aside due to political and social pressures surrounding the use of the drugs.
The authors write that “there is a growing awareness that the psychological, spiritual and existential crises often encountered by patients with cancer and their families need to be addressed more vigorously,” adding that the studies previously carried out in earlier decades “described critically ill individuals undergoing psychospiritual epiphanies, often with powerful and sustained improvement in mood and anxiety as well as diminished need for narcotic pain medication.”
In the recent study, psilocybin—a hallucinogen that produces psychological effects similar to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)—was used to treat 12 adults with advanced cancer and anxiety. Adults served as their own controls.
Participants were given either a moderate dose of active psilocybin (0.2mg/kg) or a placebo during two six-hour treatment sessions that were conducted several weeks apart. The doses were given in random order.
Both physiological and psychological assessments were conducted including blood pressure, heart rate and temperature as well as evaluations for signs of depression and anxiety. These assessments were taken before and after the session as well as the following day, the two-week mark and monthly intervals thereafter for a six-month period.
Findings concluded that the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory trait anxiety subscale indicated a significant reduction in anxiety at the one- and three-month mark after treatment with psilocybin. The Beck Depression Inventory depicted elevated mood that reached a notable significance at six months.
Other findings revealed that the Profile of Mood States did not reach significance after treatment but came close to a notable mark.
In conclusion, the authors wrote that “this study established the feasibility and safety of administering moderate doses of psilocybin to patients with advanced-stage cancer and anxiety. Some of the data revealed a positive trend toward improved mood and anxiety. These results support the need for more research in this long-neglected field.”
The study was led by Charles S. Grob, M.D. and other team members in the departments of psychiatry and internal medicine at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute. Other authors were affiliated with the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and Heffter Research Institute.
The full study will appear in the January 2011 print issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.
Source: Archives of General Psychiatry