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Psilocybin-assisted group therapy for demoralized older long-term AIDS survivor men: An open-label safety and feasibility pilot study

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Abstract

Background: Psilocybin therapy has shown promise as a rapid-acting treatment for depression, anxiety, and demoralization in patients with serious medical illness (e.g., cancer) when paired with individual psychotherapy. This study assessed the safety and feasibility of psilocybin-assisted group therapy for demoralization in older long-term AIDS survivor (OLTAS) men, a population with a high degree of demoralization and traumatic loss.

Methods: Self-identified gay men OLTAS with moderate-to-severe demoralization (Demoralization Scale-II ≥8) were recruited from the community of a major US city for a single-site open-label study of psilocybin-assisted group therapy comprising 8-10 group therapy visits and one psilocybin administration visit (0·3-0·36 mg/kg po). Primary outcomes were rate and severity of adverse events, and participant recruitment and retention. The primary clinical outcome was change in mean demoralization from baseline to end-of-treatment and to 3-month follow-up assessed with a two-way repeated measures ANOVA. Trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov (NCT02950467).

Findings: From 17 July 2017 to 16 January 2019, 18 participants (mean age 59·2 years (SD 4·4)) were enrolled, administered group therapy and psilocybin, and included in intent-to-treat analyses. We detected zero serious adverse reactions and two unexpected adverse reactions to psilocybin; seven participants experienced self-limited, severe expected adverse reactions. We detected a clinically meaningful change in demoralization from baseline to 3-month follow-up (mean difference -5·78 [SD 6·01], ηp 2 = 0·47, 90% CI 0·21-0·60).

Interpretation: We demonstrated the feasibility, relative safety, and potential efficacy of psilocybin-assisted group therapy for demoralization in OLTAS. Groups may be an effective and efficient means of delivering psychotherapy pre- and post-psilocybin to patients with complex medical and psychiatric needs.

Anderson, B. T., Danforth, A., Daroff, P. R., Stauffer, C., Ekman, E., Agin-Liebes, G., Trope, A., Boden, M. T., Dilley, P. J., Mitchell, J., & Woolley, J. (2020). Psilocybin-assisted group therapy for demoralized older long-term AIDS survivor men: An open-label safety and feasibility pilot study. EClinicalMedicine, 27, 100538. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2020.100538

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