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.”
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