More Evidence Psychedelics Can Curb Depression

by Denis Storey
December 21, 2023 at 1:05 PM UTC

Recent research shows psilocybin effectively reduces depression in cancer patients, with promising results in both individual and group therapy settings.

Clinical Relevance: Psychedelics are safe and effective in curbing depression in cancer patients

  • Psilocybin therapy in a group setting significantly reduced depression in cancer patients, with some showing full remission of symptoms.
  • The study reported no serious adverse events related to psilocybin, indicating its safety.
  • 80 percent of participants sustained a positive response to psilocybin treatment, with effects lasting up to two months.

It’s been a long, strange trip for psychedelics and mental health. After a decades-long ban on treatments that first showed promise back in the 1950s, these groundbreaking drugs have earned repeated endorsements in study after study.

The latest comes from a study published earlier this week in the journal Cancer, which showed safe, effective results in curbing depression in cancer patients who had shown earlier resistance to antidepressants and psychotherapy.

Study Overview

“We conducted a phase 2 trial to study a single dose of psilocybin administered in a group therapy setting with one-to-one therapist-to-participant psychological support to patients with curable and incurable cancer and major depressive disorder,” the study’s authors wrote. “Findings of the study showed safety (no treatment-related serious adverse events or suicidality) with psilocybin and suggested efficacy, with a significant reduction in depression severity scores from baseline to post treatment. Further investigation is warranted.”

This newest research involved 30 cancer patients from a single community oncology practice site who struggled with major depressive disorder. The researchers administered “a single 25-mg dose of psilocybin simultaneously to cohorts of three to four participants with individual (4.25 hours in 1:1 therapist-to-patient ratio) and group therapeutic support (3.75 hours) before, during, and after psilocybin administration. Outcomes included depression severity, anxiety, pain, demoralization, and disability.”

The research revealed no psilocybin-related serious adverse events, and even the observed  treatment-related adverse events (e.g., nausea, headache) could be classified as generally mild and expected. The study’s authors also reported no laboratory or electrocardiogram abnormalities and no suicidality.

“This is the first study to use a cohort approach to psilocybin therapy with both group and individual therapeutic sessions in conjunction with simultaneous group psilocybin administration based on the efficacy of group therapy for patients with cancer. In this study…we aimed to test the safety , feasibility, and tolerability, and efficacy of psilocybin-assisted therapy with a one-to-one therapist-to – patient ratio in a group setting for patients with curable and incurable cancer diagnosed with MDD,” the authors wrote.

Promising Findings

The encouraging results pointed to “a robust reduction in depression severity scores from baseline to post treatment of more than 19 points (95% CI, 22.3 to –16.0; p < .0001) by week eight. Additionally, 80 percent of participants demonstrated a sustained response to psilocybin treatment, while half of them showed full remission of depressive symptoms as son as the first week, and persisted for two months.

Scott T. Aaronson, MD, chief science officer at the Institute for Advanced Diagnostic and Therapeutics, found the results encouraging.

“We’ve seen prior studies of psilocybin in cancer patients,” he said. “The real contribution from this protocol is the efficacy of group therapy for this cohort.  As we consider moving forward with the psilocybin paradigm, a very important piece is scalability and accessibility.  This study supports the notion that we can prepare participants as well as supply post-dosing psychotherapeutic support in a group rather than individually, which helps control cost as well as personnel needs.”

Further Reading:

Colorado Becomes Second State to Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms

Therapeutic Potential of Psychedelics in the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders

Psilocybin Can Diminish Depression

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