The Beckley Foundation have been at the heart of several recent studies into psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. Using novel approaches to explore the potential therapeutic benefits of such psychedelics has proven extremely fruitful with many exciting findings published this year.
A recent study of people with advanced-stage cancer found that a single dose of psilocybin led to lasting improvements in anxiety and depression. Psilocybin might enhance mood by shifting attention away from negative and towards positive emotional information. Mystical experiences occurring under the influence of psilocybin could help ease existential anxiety by changing a person’s attitudes towards death and dying. Although these results are promising, research studies in this area have not used adequate experimental controls and therefore these results should be considered tentative until more rigorous research has been conducted.
A pioneering study in the 1970s found that psychotherapy combined with the use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD appeared to help to reduce depression, physical pain and anxiety about death in people with terminal cancer (Grof, Goodman, Richards, & Kurland, 1973). The authors’ impression was that the patients who made the most dramatic changes were those who had a “peak mystical experience” of oneness with the universe usually preceded by an experience of spiritual “death and rebirth”. Profound experiences of this nature were seen in 25% of sessions. The authors argued that profound religious and spiritual experiences, such as a “peak mystical experience” were particularly effective in helping patients accept death. However, they also noted that other kinds of emotional improvements frequently occurred even without the presence of a mystical experience.