There’s an excellent article in The Atlantic magazine about the use of psilocybin to treat anxiety in cancer patients. “Prescribing Mushrooms for Anxiety” describes the work of Dr. Stephen Ross and his colleagues at New York University.
The data from the study is still being analyzed, but anecdotally Dr. Ross and his team report that the vast majority of their patients have exhibited an immediate and sustained reduction in anxiety. Consistent with similar studies involving psilocybin, approximately three-fourths of the participants rate their experience with the drug as being one of the top five most significant events of their lives.
One of the most dramatic features of psychedelic therapy is that a single dose can have dramatic and long lasting effects. Dr. Ross offered an interesting, non-technical explanation. Perhaps the results last so long because the power of the psychedelic experience makes such a big impression. After all, a single bad experience can produce a lifetime of post-traumatic stress disorder. It makes sense that a positive experience could be as profound and long lasting.
The article has a good summary of the history of psychedelic research and interesting details on the methodology of the NYU study.
Crucially, each participant is shown the two medications they will have access to on demand throughout their trip. One is Valium, used to reduce anxiety, and the other is Zyprexa, an almost instantaneous antidote to the psychedelic. In a testament to the thorough mental preparation the study provides, the medications have never been requested by any of the patients. The psilocybin itself is presented in pill-form inside a ceramic chalice.
The process resembles a ritual as much as a scientific experiment. Perhaps the NYU study gives us a preview of how psychedelic therapy will occur in a decade or so after it becomes legal.