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'Magic Mushroom' Hallucinogen Might Help Cancer Patients
Date:9/7/2010

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) -- A controlled dose of the main ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms appears to reduce anxiety and lift spirits in people battling advanced cancer, researchers report.

In a small pilot study, the compound psilocybin appeared to be safe, with no participants reporting a "bad trip," said study author Dr. Charles Grob. His research was published online Sept. 6 and will appear in the January 2011 print issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

In fact, the trips tended to be good, with patients and their families reporting improvements up to six months after their single-dose experience with the substance.

But it took four years to get the funding and necessary approvals for the trial, even though it only involved a dozen patients (all with advanced cancer). And it's been 35 years since a similar study was conducted, in the heyday of medical research into hallucinogens in the 1950s and 1960s, before cultural and political forces moved to shut the field down.

This raises the question of if and when psilocybin and other hallucinogens will reach patients who might benefit from it.

"It's slow going justifying this particular application and the data are not overwhelming," said Keith A. Young, vice chair for research in the department of psychiatry and behavioral science at Texas A&M Health Science Center and core leader at the VA Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans. "This just indicates that there might be room for additional study. . . It seems to be that other approaches might be just as good, for instance a spiritual retreat. These particular results probably warrant more study, but are not overpowering."

Added Dr. Amy Abernethy, director of the Duke University Cancer Care Research Program in Durham, N.C., "We're judicious and, if anything, a bit timid in getting the work done."

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