By Kai Kupferschmidt, Science Magazine (republished with special permission)
Could a psychedelic drug help people who are dying of cancer face their fears? Two long awaited studies suggest that the hallucinogenic compound in magic mushrooms, psilocybin, could do just that. “They are the most rigorous double-blind placebo-controlled trials of a psychedelic drug in the past 50 years,” writes David Nutt, a pharmacologist at Imperial College London who was not involved in the work, in an editorial accompanying the papers.
Both studies, published today in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, combined a psychedelic trip with several sessions of psychotherapy. In one, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, 51 cancer patients received two doses of the drug 5 weeks apart, one relatively high and one so low that it was unlikely to have any effect. In the second study, at New York University (NYU), 29 cancer patients randomly received either psilocybin or niacin, a compound that mimics some side effects of psilocybin—including a flushed, hot feeling—but without the hallucinogenic properties. Seven weeks later, the patients received the other compound.