Magic mushrooms may ease anxiety of cancer: study

Mon Sep 6, 2010 4:03pm EDT
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The hallucinogen psilocybin -- known by the street name magic mushrooms -- may help ease the anxiety that often accompanies late-stage cancer, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

Cancer patients given a moderate dose of psilocybin -- a hallucinogen with effects similar to LSD -- were measurably less depressed six months after a single dose compared with a placebo. Patients seemed somewhat less anxious, they reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The pilot study of 12 cancer patients was designed to prove that hallucinogenic drugs could be studied safely as a way to relieve the distress of advanced cancer.

It revives a promising field of study lasting from the 1950s to the early 1970s that suggested some patients experienced powerful and sustained improvement in mood and anxiety from hallucinogens.

Researchers said the studies were abandoned in the early 1970s when hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD -- lysergic acid diethylamide -- became widely used on the streets, leading to strict federal laws regulating their use.

"Forty to 45 years ago, the culture was going through tremendous upheaval. These compounds were associated with a very politically active counterculture," said Dr. Charles Grob of Harbor-University of California Los Angeles Medical Center and the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute.

"It was something of a public health crisis. Everything had to be shut down," Grob said in a telephone interview.

Federal law prohibits the use of the magic mushroom compound for any purpose. If it proves effective among late-stage cancer patients, U.S. regulators would need to make special accommodation for its use, Grob said.   Continued...