Quite the Trip: Adventist Hospital’s Cancer Center Explores Use of Magic Mushrooms to Treat Depression
- Recent and ongoing studies show that psilocybin, a psychedelic substance derived from mushrooms, has promising therapeutic effects for hard-to-treat disorders such as addiction, depression and end-of-life anxiety.
- The DEA classifies psilocybin as a drug that has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.
- A psilocybin clinical trial at the Aquilino Cancer Center found that 82% of the overall participants registered a more-than-50% reduction in their depression scores.
27 May 2022 | The Aquilino Cancer Center, part of Adventist HealthCare’s Shady Grove Medical Center in Maryland, U.S., has been clinical trial testing the safety and efficacy of group-administered psilocybin for the treatment of anxiety and depression in cancer patients since 2020, according to one of its press releases.
Psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms,” is often seen as a controversial substance due to the hallucinations it produces and high potential of recreational misuse. In the United States it is illegal, and classified as a drug that has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
As a drug with a “high potential for abuse,” psilocybin would seem to be a no-no for Adventists. According to the Adventist Church’s Fundamental Belief No. 22: “Since alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and the irresponsible use of drugs and narcotics are harmful to our bodies, we are to abstain from them.”
However, according to the article, “Analysis of Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy in Medicine: A Narrative Review,” psilocybin has “low toxicity and low risk of overuse.” In addition, recent and ongoing studies show that psilocybin has promising therapeutic effects for hard-to-treat disorders such as addiction, depression, and end-of-life anxiety.
Moreover, the U.S.’ Food and Drug Administration gave the Aquilino Cancer Center approval to conduct clinical trials of psilocybin. It was the first cancer center in the United States to receive such approval, according to the Aquilino press release.
A recent article in Bethesda Magazine revealed the experiences of three participants in the psilocybin treatments.
As part of the study protocol, each participant met individually with a therapist assigned to guide them through the experience prior to being given the treatment. The therapists tried to develop a bond with the participants and discussed what to expect during the treatment.
On the day of the psilocybin dosing, the participants arrived at the facility’s Bill Richards Center for Healing, met with their therapists, and then settled into separate treatment rooms where they each received 25 milligrams of psilocybin. They were also given eyeshades and headphones to listen to a curated playlist of acoustic music that was part of the treatment.
All three reported hallucinations filled with fantastical imagery, and two of the participants experienced watching themselves die. The participants reported a wide range of emotions, with one calling it a “very, very difficult” experience that ended in a feeling of comfort.
The day after the dosing, the participants gathered again with their therapists to discuss their experiences. The psilocybin is purposefully administered in a group setting because previous research has shown it can be more beneficial than individual therapy.
Although most psilocybin studies have focused on terminally ill cancer patients, this study was open to adults diagnosed with all stages of cancer and major depression. The study had 30 participants, who ranged in age from early 30s to late 70s. Participants were followed for eight weeks to monitor changes in their depression symptoms.
Though the study data hasn’t been published, oncologist Manish Agrawal, the medical director of the Aquilino Cancer Center and the study’s lead investigator, told Bethesda that 82% of the overall participants registered a more-than-50% reduction in their depression scores. Half of all the participants no longer suffered from clinical depression eight weeks after taking psilocybin and participating in group therapy. Some participants continued to see changes more than a year after taking psilocybin.
A new clinical trial at the center is expected to start this spring and could involve as many as 60 participants. Agrawal said the Food and Drug Administration could approve psilocybin for medical use within four years.
(Photo: Psilocybin, a psychedelic substance derived from mushrooms like this, is being used in clinical trials at The Aquilino Cancer Center, part of Adventist HealthCare’s Shady Grove Medical Center in Maryland, U.S.. The psilocybin clinical trials test the safety and efficacy of group-administered psilocybin for the treatment of anxiety and depression in cancer patients. Photo via the DEA.)