Ex­plor­ing the medic­i­nal side of magic mush­rooms

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

Amid the in­sti­tu­tional labs, of­fices and class­rooms of Ren­nebohm Hall, home to the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son’s School of Phar­macy, lies a room with an over­sized sofa, na­ture scenes on the walls, a chime and drum on an in­laid ta­ble and med­i­ta­tive mu­sic float­ing from over­head speak­ers.

In­side, peo­ple are tak­ing psilo­cy­bin, the hal­lu­cino­genic in­gre­di­ent found in “magic mush­rooms.”

They’re not only hop­ing for a “good trip.” They’re help­ing sci­en­tists study the po­ten­tial of psilo­cy­bin to ease the minds of pa­tients with ad­vanced can­cer and other emo­tion­ally dev­as­tat­ing con­di­tions.

Nearly 50 years af­ter the late Har­vard psy­chol­o­gist Ti­mothy Leary ad­vised peo­ple to “turn on, tune in, drop out” with psilo­cy­bin, LSD and other psy­che­delic drugs— which be­came il­le­gal in 1970—re­searchers around the coun­try are test­ing those sub­stances’ abil­ity to re­duce anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion in pa­tients with ter­mi­nal can­cer. They’re also study­ing their use­ful­ness in treat­ing ad­dic­tion and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

Psilo­cy­bin, known as an “en­theogen” for its cen­turies-old use in re­li­gious cer­e­monies, acts on spe­cific brain re­cep­tors to change per­cep­tion and cog­ni­tion, sci­en­tists say.

Some can­cer pa­tients fac­ing death are able to de­fine their per­sonal legacy and rec­on­cile with es­tranged loved ones, but for many, that process is dif­fi­cult, even with coun­sel­ing, said Dr. Toby Camp­bell, an on­col­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin Car­bone Can­cer Cen­ter who spe­cial­izes in end-of-life care.

“Psilo­cy­bin seems to help sig­nif­i­cantly more peo­ple get to that magic place where they find peace,” Camp­bell told the Wis­con­sin State Jour­nal.

In the UW-Madi­son study, a dozen healthy vol­un­teers are tak­ing psilo­cy­bin in es­ca­lat­ing doses over sev­eral months. Sci­en­tists are mea­sur­ing the elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity of par­tic­i­pants’ hearts and test­ing their blood and urine to see how they me­tab­o­lize the drug. The re­search, com­bined with re­cent stud­ies of psilo­cy­bin in can­cer pa­tients at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity in Bal­ti­more and New York Univer­sity, could pave the way for a large trial with can­cer pa­tients.

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