Psychotherapy Combined With Psychedelic Drug Psilocybin Significantly Improved Cancer Patients’ Mental Well-Being

This shroom isn't a mere party drug. It's a life-affirming therapy with the power to alleviate depression and anxiety.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
February 19, 2020

If you’ve ever had cancer — or cared for someone with the diagnosis — you know the major toll it can take on your mental health. Between the constant uncertainty about your health and the emotional suffering the disease causes, the existential distress can make an already difficult situation worse. And while most research rightfully focuses on treating the physical illness, scholars are now paying closer attention to how to improve cancer patients’ mental well-being, too.

Back in 2016, a landmark study out of New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine found that after only a single dose of a psychedelic drug — when combined with psychotherapy — cancer patients experienced fewer symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. The participants in the study reported immediate decreases in cancer-related demoralization and hopelessness, improved spiritual well-being and increased quality of life. Six and a half months after taking the drug, between 60 and 80 percent of those in the study experienced a clinically significant reduction in their depression and/or anxiety and sustained improvements in their quality of life and attitudes toward death.

Now, thanks to a recently published article in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, we know that the effects of that single dose of psilocybin — a compound found in psychedelic mushrooms — lasted for nearly five years. The cancer patients in the study continued to experience less anxiety, depression, hopelessness, demoralization, and death anxiety. Four and a half years later, approximately 60 to 80 percent of the participants continued to show decreased levels of depression and anxiety.


“Adding to evidence dating back as early as the 1950s, our findings strongly suggest that psilocybin therapy is a promising means of improving the emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being of patients with life-threatening cancer,” the 2016 parent study’s lead investigator, Stephen Ross, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, said in a statement. “This approach has the potential to produce a paradigm shift in the psychological and existential care of patients with cancer, especially those with terminal illness.”

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling StoneCNN, Fodor’s, Lifehacker, Reader’s Digest and Playboy.

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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