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Do Psychological Benefits from Psilocybin Last?

Nearly five years after a psychedelic experience designed to be therapeutic, most participants report they still are getting benefits from psilocybin.
Do Psychological Benefits from Psilocybin Last?
Psilocybe semilanceata macro close up

Several years ago, scientists at New York University Langone Medical Center and Johns Hopkins University reported on an extraordinary pilot study. Both research groups reported that cancer patients could get dramatic relief from depression and anxiety related to their prognosis from taking psilocybin in a clinical setting (Journal of Psychopharmacology, Dec. 2016). These benefits from psilocybin were unexpectedly strong.

How Well Do Psychological Benefits from Psilocybin Last?

Now, scientists from New York University Langone Medical Center have published a follow-up after four and half years (Journal of Psychopharmacology, Feb. 2020). They found that the benefits from psilocybin therapy have stuck with 60 to 80 percent of the surviving participants. (The numbers are small; of the original 29, 16 are still alive and 15 agreed to answer the investigators’ questions.)

The volunteers reported feeling less afraid of dying and less hopeless than those who took placebo. They were overwhelmingly positive about their psilocybin-assisted therapy and rated it as a personally meaningful and spiritually significant experience.

Do Not Try This at Home!

The researchers warn that people should not adopt a do-it-yourself stance on magic mushrooms, however. They suggest that the therapeutic environment was undoubtedly important for the benefits from psilocybin. In sum, that could be very difficult to duplicate without trained therapists ready to guide people through a potentially harrowing experience.

To learn more about this research, you may wish to listen to our interview with Dr. Jeffrey Guss, a member of the original NYU team. It is Show 1084: Psilocybin, Cancer and Spiritual Awakening.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Ross S et al, "Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized controlled trial." Journal of Psychopharmacology, Dec. 1, 2016. DOI: 10.1177/0269881116675512
  • Agin-Liebes GI et al, " Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for psychiatric and existential distress in patients with life-threatening cancer." Journal of Psychopharmacology, Feb. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881119897615
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