(CNN)A single dose of psilocybin, a compound found in "magic mushrooms," provides long-term relief of anxiety and depression in cancer patients, a new study finds.
One dose of 'magic mushroom' drug reduces anxiety and depression in cancer patients, study says
In fact, cancer patients who were given psilocybin reported reductions in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, demoralization, and death anxiety more than four years after receiving the dose in combination with psychotherapy.
"Our findings strongly suggest that psilocybin therapy is a promising means of improving the emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being of patients with life-threatening cancer," said Dr. Stephen Ross, associate professor of psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health.
The findings build on improvements first reported by the team in 2016, in which 29 patients with cancer-related anxiety and depression were given either a single dose of psilocybin or a vitamin placebo called niacin. Seven weeks later, they were given the opposite. This was in combination with nine psychotherapy sessions.
By 6½ months, after all patients had received psilocybin, about 60% to 80% showed clinically significant reductions in depression, anxiety and existential distress and and improved attitudes toward death.
Fifteen of the original participants were then followed up 3.2 and 4.5 years later and showed sustained long-term improvements, with more than 70% of them further attributing "positive life change's to the therapy experience, rating it among 'the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives," according to the study published Tuesday in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
"This approach has the potential to produce a paradigm shift in the psychological and existential care of patients with cancer, especially those with terminal illness," Ross said in a statement.
Ross believes an alternative means of treating anxiety and depression among cancer patients is urgently needed, stating that a third of people diagnosed with cancer will developing anxiety, depression and other forms of distress.
Though his team does not fully understand how psilocybin has such effects on the mind, they previously suggested it could be because our brains have a level of neuroplasticity -- the ability to adapt and change with various experiences.