Using Magic Mushrooms to Combat Anxiety & Depression Due to Cancer
- Earlier this month, six cancer patients in Canada received the country’s first legal and domestic supply of magic mushrooms (psilocybin) with the goal of easing anxious thoughts about death.
- Since psilocybin is now able to be requested through the country’s Special Access Program, terminally ill patients can access man-made magic mushrooms from a regulator-approved licensed dealer, but only when they’re administered in a clinical setting.
- In the United States, however, psychedelic drugs are illegal to use, except in the clinical trial space. In order to be used in a clinical trial, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must approve their use.
- Anxiety affects 40 million adults in the United States from 18 years old and up, making it the most common mental illness in the U.S. Furthermore, nearly 50% of cancer survivors say they experience symptoms of anxiety.
“When you get a … cancer diagnosis, it instills a sense of panic in you, you can’t sleep. I was consumed with terror about who will be there for my daughters when I die. Worry took away my ability to function and live,” he told the Vancouver Sun earlier this month.Read More
Luckily for Thomas, who’s from Saskatchewan, Canada, he’s now able to legally calm those worries. Earlier this month, he became one of six cancer patients in Canada to receive the country’s first legal and domestic supply of magic mushrooms (psilocybin) with the goal of easing those anxious thoughts about passing away. (Psilocybin is the anxiety-reducing chemical found in magic mushrooms.)
“Having this approval, I feel like the luckiest person,” he said. “I know a number of people with cancer who have died waiting for one.”
Psychedelic drugs have become more prevalent in the medical space in recent years because of their anxiety and depression-reducing qualities; magic mushrooms have proven that they can be helpful in aiding people that live with depression. A study published this week in the prestigious journal Nature Medicine found brain changes on imaging for patients taking magic mushrooms (psilocybin), and that the result of psilocybin use was better than that of the popular antidepressant medication escitalopram (brand name: Lexapro).
Hartle recently began psychedelic therapy by palliative care physicians with Roots To Thrive, a Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada-based organization. He hasn’t been able to legally consume magic mushrooms since August of last year, which is when Thomas’ one-year exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act expired, according to the Vancouver Sun.
According to its website, Roots To Thrive is the “first and only multidisciplinary, non-profit healthcare practice to legally offer evidence-informed, multi-week, group therapy programs that use a community of practice model, uniquely designed to address trauma and to promote resilience, and to also include the option of psilocybin-assisted and ketamine-assisted group therapy.”
Canada’s Legal Authorization of Magic Mushrooms
In January, Health Canada (the department of the Government of Canada responsible for national health policy) reinstated its program that allows doctors to request access to psilocybin. It was previously excluded from the country’s Special Access Program and the drug is illegal in Canada.
Terminally ill patients, like Hartle, were previously allowed to use psilocybin for anxiety and depression through an exemption. However, they had to grow their own magic mushrooms as there was no way for them to access psilocybin in a professional setting.
Since psilocybin is now able to be requested through the program, terminally ill patients can access man-made magic mushrooms from a regulator-approved licensed dealer, but only when they’re administered in a clinical setting.
Doctors at Roots To Thrive requested access to psilocybin for their patients, including Hartle, and their SAP was approved at the end of March.
TheraPsil is a non-profit in Canada that helps citizens gain access to psychedelic therapy. Spencer Hawkswell, the non-profit’s chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement that the country’s approval was a “momentous occasion.”
“This is a major win for patients and doctors who have been left in the dark for the past two years with legal exemptions but no supply of psilocybin,” he said.
In the United States, however, there are limitations to using magic mushrooms and other psychedelic drugs in the medical world. The major limitation is that the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 listed psychedelic drugs as Schedule 1 drugs, which is the most restrictive class of drugs. Psychedelic drugs remain a Schedule 1 drug even today. Because of this, psychedelic drugs are illegal to use, except in the clinical trial space. In order to be used in a clinical trial, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must approve their use.
Combating Anxiety & Depression Due to Cancer
The first conversation you have with your oncologist after receiving a cancer diagnosis can definitely be overwhelming, to say the least.
“Depression and anxiety are (the) worst at the beginning,” Dr. David Wise, a medical oncologist at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet. “This is largely because there is no plan in place yet.”
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety affects 40 million adults in the United States from 18 years old and up, making it the most common mental illness in the U.S. Furthermore, nearly 50% of cancer survivors say they experience symptoms of anxiety.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Samantha Boardman, a New York-based psychiatrist, offered practical tips on how to manage anxiety (as psychedelic drugs like magic mushrooms cannot be used in the recreational setting). One is a simple exercise that starts with drawing four columns on a piece of paper.
“I’ll ask patients to … write down what I don’t know, what I do know, what I can’t control, and what I can control,” she said. From there, “a helpful way to dial down their anxiety” involves “trying to move as many items as possible into what they do know and what they can control.”
A second strategy that Dr. Boardman endorses is seeking out the experience of flow.
“… anxiety is unbelievably stressful,” Dr. Boardman said. “And probably one of the best antidotes that I think psychology can offer patients is to experience flow.” Dr. Boardman defines flow as “that experience when you are so lost in an activity that you lose a sense of time.”