'Magic mushroom' drug could help cancer patients' depression and anxiety, studies suggest

Psilocybin is the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms.

A single dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient of "magic mushrooms", could help with anxiety and depression experienced by patients with advanced cancer, two new US studies suggest.

The drug was administered to 29 patients at New York University's Langone Medical Center (NYU) and 51 at Johns Hopkins University, the Journal of Psychopharmacology reported.

Dr. Stephen Ross, director of addiction psychiatry at NYU, who led its study, told NBC News: "We found that a single dose of psilocybin immediately reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients that had advanced cancer and life-threatening forms of cancer."

Gale Cowan, who has breast cancer, took part in the study and described her experience of taking the drug as positive.

"I felt this connection with everything," she told NBC News.

"Every night when I get in bed, and the lights (go) out, I find that I have a smile on my face even if I've had a really stressful day."

Magic mushrooms could offer new ways of treating depression but more research is needed,. Credit: PA
  • Class A drug Psilocybin no "magic cure"

The latest findings will no doubt lead to further research but using mind-alternating drugs to treat psychiatric conditions has long been a contentious issue and larger trials are needed.

In May 2016, a small British pilot study of 12 patients with treatment-resistant depression were also given psilocybin.

Researchers at Imperial College London found that every patient experienced some decrease in symptoms a week after taking the strictly controlled Class A drug.

But Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, who led the study, said despite the encouraging results the treatment "isn't a magic cure".

Professor David Nutt said psychedelic psychopharmacology 'needs to be encouraged'. Credit: PA

Professor David Nutt, editor of the Journal of Psychopharmacology, who has himself been involved in psilocybin trials to treat severe depression, hailed it an "exciting new phase".

"It’s time to take psychedelic treatments in psychiatry and oncology seriously, as we did in the 1950s and 1960s, which means we need to go back to the future."