OPEN Foundation

J. Guss

Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for psychiatric and existential distress in patients with life-threatening cancer.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:
A recently published randomized controlled trial compared single-dose psilocybin with single-dose niacin in conjunction with psychotherapy in participants with cancer-related psychiatric distress. Results suggested that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy facilitated improvements in psychiatric and existential distress, quality of life, and spiritual well-being up to seven weeks prior to the crossover. At the 6.5-month follow-up, after the crossover, 60-80% of participants continued to meet criteria for clinically significant antidepressant or anxiolytic responses.
METHODS:
The present study is a long-term within-subjects follow-up analysis of self-reported symptomatology involving a subset of participants that completed the parent trial. All 16 participants who were still alive were contacted, and 15 participants agreed to participate at an average of 3.2 and 4.5 years following psilocybin administration.
RESULTS:
Reductions in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, demoralization, and death anxiety were sustained at the first and second follow-ups. Within-group effect sizes were large. At the second (4.5 year) follow-up approximately 60-80% of participants met criteria for clinically significant antidepressant or anxiolytic responses. Participants overwhelmingly (71-100%) attributed positive life changes to the psilocybin-assisted therapy experience and rated it among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives.
CONCLUSION:
These findings suggest that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy holds promise in promoting long-term relief from cancer-related psychiatric distress. Limited conclusions, however, can be drawn regarding the efficacy of this therapy due to the crossover design of the parent study. Nonetheless, the present study adds to the emerging literature base suggesting that psilocybin-facilitated therapy may enhance the psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being of patients with life-threatening cancer.
Agin-Liebes, G. I., Malone, T., Yalch, M. M., Mennenga, S. E., Ponté, K. L., Guss, J., … & Ross, S. (2020). Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for psychiatric and existential distress in patients with life-threatening cancer. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 0269881119897615., https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0269881119897615
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The influence of therapists’ first-hand experience with psychedelics on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy research and therapist training

Clinical research on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is rapidly advancing in the USA, with two drugs, psilocybin and MDMA, progressing through a structure of FDA-approved trials on a trajectory toward Drug Enforcement Agency rescheduling for therapeutic use. Researcher’s and clinician’s personal use of psychedelics was cited as a potential confound in psychedelic research studies conducted in the 1950s and 1960s, a concern which contributed to the cessation of this research for some 20 years. Currently, there is no empirical research on personal use of psychedelics by current academic researchers and clinicians; its influence is undocumented, unknown, and undertheorized. This paper explores the history of personal use of psychedelics by clinicians and researchers, the potential impact of personal use on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and research, and the rationale for opening an academic discussion and program of research to investigate the role of personal use. We propose that there are factors unique to psychedelic-assisted therapy such that training for it cannot neatly fit into the framework of modern psychopharmacology training, nor be fully analogous to psychotherapy training in contemporary psychological and psychiatric settings. We argue that scientific exploration of the influence of therapists’ first-hand experience of psychedelics on psychedelic-assisted therapy outcomes is feasible, timely, and necessary for the future of clinical research.
Nielson, E. M., & Guss, J. (2018). The influence of therapists’ first-hand experience with psychedelics on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy research and therapist training. Journal of Psychedelic Studies, 1-10. 10.1556/2054.2018.009
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Individual Experiences in Four Cancer Patients Following Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy.

Abstract

A growing body of evidence shows that existential and spiritual well-being in cancer patients is associated with better medical outcomes, improved quality of life, and serves as a buffer against depression, hopelessness, and desire for hastened death. Historical and recent research suggests a role for psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in treating cancer-related anxiety and depression. A double-blind controlled trial was performed, where 29 patients with cancer-related anxiety and depression were randomly assigned to treatment with single-dose psilocybin (0.3 mg/kg) or niacin in conjunction with psychotherapy. Previously published results of this trial demonstrated that, in conjunction with psychotherapy, moderate-dose psilocybin produced rapid, robust, and enduring anxiolytic, and anti-depressant effects. Here, we illustrate unique clinical courses described by four participants using quantitative measures of acute and persisting effects of psilocybin, anxiety, depression, quality of life, and spiritual well-being, as well as qualitative interviews, written narratives, and clinician notes. Although the content of each psilocybin-assisted experience was unique to each participant, several thematic similarities and differences across the various sessions stood out. These four participants’ personal narratives extended beyond the cancer diagnosis itself, frequently revolving around themes of self-compassion and love, acceptance of death, and memories of past trauma, though the specific details or narrative content differ substantially. The results presented here demonstrate the personalized nature of the subjective experiences elicited through treatment with psilocybin, particularly with respect to the spiritual and/or psychological needs of each patient.
Malone, T. C., Mennenga, S. E., Guss, J., Podrebarac, S. K., Owens, L. T., Bossis, A. P., … & Ross, S. (2018). Individual Experiences in Four Cancer Patients Following Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy. Frontiers in pharmacology9, 256, 10.3389/fphar.2018.00256
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Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: a randomized controlled trial

Abstract

Cancer patients often develop chronic, clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety. Previous studies suggest that psilocybin may decrease depression and anxiety in cancer patients. The effects of psilocybin were studied in 51 cancer patients with life-threatening diagnoses and symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. This randomized, double-blind, cross-over trial investigated the effects of a very low (placebo-like) dose (1 or 3 mg/70 kg) vs. a high dose (22 or 30 mg/70 kg) of psilocybin administered in counterbalanced sequence with 5 weeks between sessions and a 6-month follow-up. Instructions to participants and staff minimized expectancy effects. Participants, staff, and community observers rated participant moods, attitudes, and behaviors throughout the study. High-dose psilocybin produced large decreases in clinician- and self-rated measures of depressed mood and anxiety, along with increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism, and decreases in death anxiety. At 6-month follow-up, these changes were sustained, with about 80% of participants continuing to show clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety. Participants attributed improvements in attitudes about life/self, mood, relationships, and spirituality to the high-dose experience, with >80% endorsing moderately or greater increased well-being/life satisfaction. Community observer ratings showed corresponding changes. Mystical-type psilocybin experience on session day mediated the effect of psilocybin dose on therapeutic outcomes.

Ross, S., Bossis, A., Guss, J., Agin-Liebes, G., Malone, T., Cohen, B., … & Su, Z. (2016). Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 30(12), 1165-1180. 10.1177/0269881116675513
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