The New Yorker on use of psilocybin to treat cancer patients

February 9, 2015, 1:38 am

Recommended long-read of the week is Michael Pollan’s New Yorker article “The Trip Treatment,” a look at research being done at several medical centers — including New York University and Johns Hopkins — into the use of the psychedelic drug psilocybin to ameliorate anxiety and depression in cancer patients.

Similar work had been started half a century ago, but was essentially abandoned after the image of psychedelics became tainted by the excesses of the 1960s, and the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 made it virtually impossible to obtain the drug even for research purposes.

Part of the research protocol is illustrated in the video above. The sessions are carefully controlled, with all participants screened, prepared, and then guided through the drug experience. The researchers claim that after almost 500 sessions they have seen no serious adverse effects. That may be, but I find it somewhat difficult to believe.

Although psilocybin does seem to have potential in treating oncology patients — and also some forms of addiction — some of the researchers Pollan interviews seem overly enthusiastic. For example, Stephen Ross at NYU told Pollan:

“I thought the first teen or twenty people were plants — that they must be faking it. . . . They were saying thins like ‘I understand love it the most powerful force on the planet,’ or “I had an encounter with my cancer, this black could of smoke.’ People who had been palpably scared of death — they lost their fear. The fact that a drug given once can have such an effect for so long is an unprecedented finding. We have never had anything like it in the psychiatric field.”

Well maybe. But if it sounds too good to be true . . . As Pollan points out, “The first wave of research into psychedelics was doomed by an excessive exuberance about their potential.” Are we making the same mistake again? A search of PubMed did not reveal any publications to date about this work by the NYU team: Stephen Ross, Tony Bossis, and jeffrey Guss. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes of their work. In any event, the Pollan article is fascinating and worth reading.

Related posts:

Therapeutic Psilocybin?

Magic mushrooms: are they risky?

Research into Psychedelics Returning to Academia

Experimental LSD session (video)

Time, Life, and the Psychedelic Sixties


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