Psychedelic Therapy Benefits Persist Five Years After Treatment

January 29, 2020

One of the more compelling areas of research currently being investigated in the world of psychedelic science is psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy to improve emotional well-being in patients with life-threatening cancer. A new study is offering the first long-term insights into the efficacy of the treatment, revealing a single dose of psilocybin, in conjunction with psychotherapy, is still offering persistently positive effects up to five years later.

Dealing with the profound existential distress of a life-threatening cancer diagnosis is a major challenge for most patients. As many as 40 percent of cancer patients are known to develop clinically significant signs of depression or anxiety, and these mental health issues have been linked to worse treatment outcomes or, in some instances, suicide.

Some of the earliest psychedelic studies in the 1950s and 60s explored the effects of LSD on depression and anxiety in cancer patients before research in the area froze for several decades due to societal prohibitions. But post-2000 saw a thawing of regulations, and some of the most comprehensive trials to date have been investigating the potential for psychedelics in treating patients with life-threatening illness suffering existential distress.

The acute results from these studies have been incredibly promising but so far there has been little investigation into the long-term efficacy of these psychedelic interventions. In terms of psychedelic psychotherapy for patients with life-threatening illnesses, the longest follow-up study to date has been 12 months.

A newly published study in the Journal of Pharmacology is offering some of the best long-term insights into psychedelic psychotherapy to date. The study follows a previously published investigation into a single moderate dose of psilocybin, in conjunction with psychotherapy, for patients with cancer-related existential distress.

The 2016 double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study recruited 29 patients. By the six-and-a-half-month follow-up point, between 60 and 80 percent of the patients displayed clinically significant improvements in depression and anxiety symptoms.

The new study reports on two further long-term follow-up points investigating whether the effects of the psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy persisted for several years. Only 16 of the original 29 patients were still alive for the follow-up study, one of whom declined to participate and a second who died before the final follow-up date. This left 14 subjects to evaluate with an average final follow-up of four and a half years.

The long-term results were strikingly positive, recalling similar efficacy to the originally published study. Between 60 and 80 percent of the remaining subjects still fitted the criteria for clinically significant anxiolytic or antidepressant responses and the vast majority of the subjects ranked the single psilocybin treatment as one of the most meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives.

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