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Show 1084: Psilocybin, Cancer & Spiritual Awakening

Researchers found that a session with psilocybin in a therapeutic setting helped demoralized cancer patients find meaning in life again.
Show 1084: Psilocybin, Cancer & Spiritual Awakening
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Psilocybin, Cancer & Spiritual Awakening

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People facing a life-threatening cancer diagnosis may struggle with more than the medical treatment. They sometimes experience an existential crisis, in which life loses its meaning. In such situations, anxiety and depression may overwhelm and paralyze them. To address this problem, some psychiatrists decided to see whether the hallucinogenic compound psilocybin could make a difference.

How Psilocybin Helps:

We speak with a psychiatrist who has studied the effect of this hallucinogenic drug in a therapeutic setting. He and his colleagues had noted that a strong spiritual foundation seems to protect people from existential despair. They found that a dose of psilocybin under carefully controlled circumstances could help people find new meaning in life.

Psilocybin as Entheogen:

Under these conditions, the psychedelic experience (which was often arduous rather than pleasant) seemed to help people discover or re-discover their spiritual bearings. Sometimes experts describe psilocybin as an entheogen-a means to discover the divine spark within.

This Week’s Guest:

Jeffrey Guss, MD, is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine and is a Senior Faculty member of the Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in NYU’s Department of Psychiatry. He is the Director of Psychedelic Psychotherapy Training for the NYU Psilocybin and Cancer Anxiety Study and also served as an Investigator and therapist with the study. Dr. Guss maintains a full time practice of psychotherapy and psychiatry in New York City.

He and his colleagues published their findings in December, 2016, in the Journal of Psychopharmacology: “Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: a randomized controlled trial.”  The Johns Hopkins researchers published their research in the same journal: “Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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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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