Magic Mushrooms

Magic Mushrooms could be the key to alleviating cancer-related distress

On top of the physical ills cancer patients experience, they can also suffer from various degrees of mental health distress.

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It’s estimated that 40 percent of cancer patients will experience anxiety or depression during their treatment, and that another 25 percent may experience something referred to as “existential distress.”

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However, doctors are limited in their ability to treat cancer-related mental health crises. Traditional treatments for anxiety and depression may work on less than half of people being treated for cancer.

That’s why many doctors want to turn to an infamous chemical: Psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound found in “magic” mushrooms.

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In the 1950s and 60s, doctors were testing psilocybin as a treatment for battling mental health disorders like addition. However, psilocybin was classified as a schedule 1 narcotic and banned in the 1970s, so research since then has stagnated.

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But now doctors are fighting back and have begun small trials treating cancer patients with psilocybin. And they’ve found results: After just one dose of psilocybin, participating cancer patients reported no signs of anxiety or depression — for years after their treatments.

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After a 2016 trial, patients treated with psilocybin reported that it was among the top five most spiritual or meaningful experiences of their lives.

So how do magic mushrooms affect the brain?

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Scientists think that psilocybin creates a feedback loop in the brain that causes neural pathways to destabilize.

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And although that sounds scary, the result is neurotransmitters flowing freely through the brain, forming connections where they may not have before.

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In April 2020, scientists modeling the effects of psilocybin on the brain found that it allowed new networks of neurons to form simultaneously, giving neurotransmitters that freedom.

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Now, doctors and patients alike are fighting to have psilocybin reclassified from a schedule 1 drug to medicine, so more trials can commence — and more patients could possibly be relieved of mental health distress while undergoing cancer treatments.

Read a deep dive of the case for psilocybin here.

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