• October 27, 2020

New Study Launched on Psilocybin Therapy for Depression in Cancer Patients

 New Study Launched on Psilocybin Therapy for Depression in Cancer Patients

Magic Mushroom by David Trowbridge via Creative Commons

Cancer isn’t just physically hard to endure — it’s also emotionally and spiritually exhausting. That’s why many cancer patients report suffering deep depression, but researchers in Maryland think they may have found a potential cure: Psilocybin, which is the fancy name for ‘magic mushrooms’ (a.k.a. shrooms).  

The Maryland Oncology Hematology at the Aquilino Cancer Center at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center launched the first clinical trial testing psilocybin therapy to treat depression in cancer patients this Wednesday, according to a EurekAlert press release. The trial seeks to test the feasibility and safety of psilocybin therapy. 

Many traditional treatments for cancer patients with depression don’t work for everyone, according to Dr. Manish Agrawal. He’s the principal investigator for Maryland Oncology Hematology at the Aquilino Cancer Center at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. He says this new trial is an opportunity to give those patients a way to cope with the mental consequences of having cancer.

“This trial could transform the way we help cancer patients cope with the psychological impact of life-threatening disease,” Agrawal said. “We will investigate the combination of individualized treatment along with group administration for creating a network of support and shared experience that could provide long-term relief from symptoms of depression.”

Over the course of 6 months, physicians with Maryland Oncology Hematology — the largest independent cancer physician practice in Maryland — will enroll 30 patients in the study. Between two to four patients will simultaneously receive 25 milligrams of synthetic psilocybin. Each patient will also receive individual psychological support from specially trained therapists for their six to eight-hour experiences (a.k.a. trips). Patients will be followed for at least eight weeks to measure their depression symptoms.

The study will use mental health care company COMPASS Passing’s investigative COMP360 psilocybin therapy. COMP360 — a synthesized psilocybin formulation — will be administered jointly with psychological support from therapists trained in COMPASS protocol.

In response to a recent trend of doctors addressing the quality of life for cancer patients in addition to the longevity of life, treatments will be administered in a new facility at the Aquilino Cancer Center designed specifically for administering psilocybin therapy. Additionally, the space will hold a variety of activities, such as individual therapy, acupuncture, exercise, and self-care classes, to address cancer patients’ emotional and psychological needs.

It’s crucial for the medical community to acknowledge the mental health issues cancer patients face and for doctors and researchers to learn how to help them cope with those problems, according to Dr. Paul Thambi, an investigator on the trial and a medical oncologist with Maryland Oncology Hematology. 

“In cancer care, there is a myopic and intense focus on treating the disease, but a cancer diagnosis has far-reaching impact on a person’s life, including their emotional and spiritual health,” Thambi said. “We need better tools to support all of our patients’ needs, and specifically cope with the psychological impact of their disease.”

Gabrielle Lewis

Gabrielle Lewis

Gabrielle Lewis is a journalist at the University of Maryland College Park. She has written and edited for the school's flagship newspaper, The Diamondback, as well as other campus publications. You can find her on Twitter @gabrielleslewis.

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