Link Between Cancer And Psilocybin: Research On This Palliative Promise

The use of psychedelic-assisted therapy to treat cancer-related conditions has come a long way. Recently, several clinical studies have been set up to assess different kinds of treatment, including LSD microdosing and psilocybin for palliative care and cancer-related distress

One of them, a Phase 2 study conducted by Sunstone Therapies, published initial results of psilocybin’s long-term efficacy in cancer patients with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in the JAMA Oncology journal back in April.

That data corresponded to an 8-week follow-up period. In June, Sunstone will present its 18-month follow-up outcomes at the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting. Its importance relies on the fact that it is possibly the longest follow-up data ever generated for a psilocybin study.

The open-label study assessed 25mg of COMPASS Pathways’ CMPS synthetic psilocybin provided to 30 patients with curable and incurable cancer in adjacent rooms in a one-on-one therapist/patient ratio. Preparation and administration sessions were collective and supplemented by individual therapy.

Meanwhile, the University of Washington and psychedelics philanthropist Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation are sponsoring a new Phase 1/2 trial on psilocybin-assisted therapy for cancer-related anxiety in 56 patients with metastatic cancer.

Treatment will be divided into a Phase 1 counseling stage and a Phase 2 on oral psilocybin capsules administration with group and individual therapy sessions.

Interestingly, the study’s primary outcome measures are the number of instances of potentially unattended psilocybin-related distress during psilocybin sessions. Secondary measures include change in measured anxiety and depression.

To be performed in Seattle and led by PI Anthony Black, the trial’s estimated start date is Sept. 1, with primary completion date around July 2024 and study completion date around Dec. 2024.

Psychedelics Vs. Antidepressants For Advanced Cancer Patients

Researchers at the University of Connecticut recently conducted a meta-analysis of five clinical trials and found that taking LSD, psilocybin or MDMA alone significantly reduced both depression and anxiety symptoms in patients with advanced cancer.

Psychedelics ingestion caused large increases in blood pressure, which may make them unsuitable for patients with poorly-controlled hypertension or heart disease, they advised.   

In one of the trials assessed, out of a total of 51 cancer patients, 60% who received a single high-dose psilocybin session achieved clinical remission for depression (vs. 16% who received placebo,) and 52% did for anxiety (vs. 12% given placebo.) These effects were maintained six months post-dose.

Meanwhile, a study comparing psilocybin with traditional antidepressant escitalopram (Lexapro) in patients with major depression found that 57% of people given psilocybin achieved clinical remission vs. 28% given escitalopram.

More studies are required to determine the effectiveness of psychedelics to treat anxiety and depression in cancer patients and other life-threatening diseases causing trauma, anxiety or depression.

Psychedelics Regulations For Palliative Care

At the federal level, Sens. Cory Booker and Rand Paul and Reps. Nancy Mace and Madeleine Dean introduced an updated version of the Breakthrough Therapies Act toward expanding opportunities for research and therapies using MDMA and psilocybin in both chambers this past March.

Separately, Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Mace filed a bill to allow terminally-ill patients to access psilocybin and other investigational treatments with Schedule I drugs under the federal Right to Try (RTT) laws.

See also: Cancer Patients' Case To Use Psilocybin Under Right To Try Law Dismissed By Fed Appeals Court

Outside the U.S., Canada’s current legal pathway to access psilocybin by certain patients is notably being questioned in its actual capacity to make this therapy available for those who need it.

Photo: Benzinga edit with photo by Acontent_creator and BCFC on Shutterstock.

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