OPEN Foundation

S. Mennenga

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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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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Clinical interpretations of patient experience in a trial of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for alcohol use disorder

Abstract

After a hiatus of some 40 years, clinical research has resumed on the use of classic hallucinogens to treat addiction. Following completion of a small open-label feasibility study, we are currently conducting a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial of psilocybin-assisted treatment of alcohol use disorder. Although treatment effects cannot be analyzed until the study is complete, descriptive case studies provide a useful window into the therapeutic process of psychedelic-assisted treatment of addiction. Here we describe treatment trajectories of three participants in the ongoing trial to illustrate the range of experiences and persisting effects of psilocybin treatment. Although it is difficult to generalize from a few cases, several qualitative conclusions can be drawn from the data presented here. Although participants often find it difficult to describe much of their psilocybin experience, pivotal moments tend to be individualized, extremely vivid, and memorable. Often, the qualitative content extends beyond the clinical problem that is being addressed. The participants discussed in this paper experienced acute and lasting alterations in their perceptions of self, in the quality of their baseline consciousness, and in their relationship with alcohol and drinking. In these cases, experiences of catharsis, forgiveness, self-compassion, and love were at least as salient as classic mystical content. Finally, feelings of increased “spaciousness” or mindfulness, and increased control over choices and behavior were reported following the drug administration sessions. Ultimately, psilocybin-assisted treatment appears to elicit experiences that are extremely variable, yet seem to meet the particular needs of the individual.

Bogenschutz, M. P., Podrebarac, S. K., Duane, J. H., Amegadzie, S. S., Malone, T. C., Owens, L. T., … & Mennenga, S. E. (2018). Clinical interpretations of patient experience in a trial of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for alcohol use disorder. Frontiers in Pharmacology9, 100. 10.3389/fphar.2018.00100
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