Psychedelic Therapy: New Research Shows Psychedelics Might Hold Therapeutic Potential

When her doctors told Pam Sakuda that her cancer had metastasized and there was nothing left to do, the fear of death overwhelmed her.

“You no longer have this life ahead of you that you planned for,” she recounted in a video interview before her death in 2006. “You’re basically living in fear. … It paralyzes the good life you’re living at the moment.”

That’s why Sakuda turned to hallucinogens.

Hoping to “find a way to achieve peace,” in 2004 she participated in a pilot study conducted by psychiatrist Charles Grob at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. Grob coupled Sakuda’s regular talk therapy treatments with a one-time dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient of psychedelic mushrooms, best known as a hallmark of the hippie experience. The Food and Drug Administration has more recently approved psilocybin for use in pilot clinical trials to treat end-of-life distress.

Sakuda believed the drug helped her regain an appreciation of life. “It allows you to release other feelings and explore other ways you might feel,” she said. “I began to realize all this negative fear was a hindrance to making the most of and enjoying the healthy time that I’m having — however long it may be.”

She wasn’t alone. In the 12 patients he treated with psilocybin, Grob found preliminary evidence of reduced anxiety and improved mood and quality of life, and an indication that these benefits were sustained over several months.

In order to expand on Grob’s work, psychiatrists at John Hopkins University and New York University are currently recruiting patients for similar studies. Through studies like these, scientists have embarked on a wave of research that holds the promise of novel ways to treat psychological distress and a new understanding of our brains.

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Scientists at NYU and the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center are discovering powerful evidence that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy can help people deal with the stress and anxiety that people often experience when struggling with life-threatening cancer. According to the article, psilocybin research is helping us learn a lot about the neurobiology of spirituality and the potential that psychedelics hold as healing tools.