Psilocybin could help alleviate end-of-life anxiety symptoms for people with diseases, such as AIDS and cancer, researchers in Taiwan and the United Kingdom concluded. And such effects could be relatively long-lasting, even with just a single dose of the drug, they said. Patients also suffered no serious adverse effects as a result of such treatment.
The researchers, using data from other studies, did find differences between the outcome of psilocybin use on “state” and “trait” anxiety in such patients. (State anxiety refers to acute anxiety caused by individual, transitory events, while trait anxiety is a chronic, personality-driven reaction to stress in general.) While state anxiety treatment was more effective than placebo at intervals of one day and one month after psilocybin use, there were no significant differences at the three-month and six-month stages. Using the drug to help deal with trait anxiety, however, remained effective at the three- and six-month stages after treatment, as well as at the earlier stages, the researchers said.
Such sustained improvements in trait anxiety could indicate the benefits of psilocybin in improving stress-coping strategies, the researchers suggested. This could be crucial for patients suffering the chronic stress typically associated with life-threatening illnesses.
The research focused primarily on HIV/AIDS and cancer patients.
Patients with cancer can experience anxiety during diagnosis, treatment and survival. The researchers pointed to data showing approximately 19% of such patients experienced anxiety and about 13% were diagnosed with clinical depression.
With HIV and AIDS, the rate of mental distress can be even higher, with the researchers saying up to 38% of HIV patients suffer anxiety disorders.
With both cancer and HIV/AIDS, uncertainty regarding health and life outcomes can cause considerable stress and can also be combined with biological changes, leading to more uncertainty.
“In summary, the complex etiologies of the mental health problems in patients with cancer or HIV can pose challenges for treatment,” the researchers said.
The potential benefits of the treatment also outweighed any side effects, which were minimal.
While the researchers noted the relatively small size of the data study — only five published studies were used out of an initial total of 45 — the fact there were no serious adverse reactions to the treatment in any of them was significant, they said.
And while there were some instances of increased blood pressure with psilocybin treatment, these were transitory and needed no medical intervention. If there is adequate monitoring of such changes during treatment, as well as the need to check for possible abuse of the drug, psilocybin could be a useful tool for patients facing end-of-life issues, they said.
“These promising findings regarding psilocybin use in end-of-life anxiety symptoms could prove helpful for clinicians in hospice care or psycho-oncology,” the researchers concluded.