Analysing magic mushrooms
Scientists used two different doses of compound found in magic mushrooms to show decreased anxiety in cancer patients SC Shots Studio SRL/iStock

The active ingredient in magic mushrooms helps decrease mental health problems in cancer patients, say researchers. A single dose of the hallucinogenic component found in magic mushrooms – psilocybin – reduces anxiety and depression in the patients for a long period of time.

The study was presented on 10 December at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. The researchers say that study participants showed significantly greater attitudes towards themselves, life, and even showed positive effects on social behaviour. All 51 participants in the study had been diagnosed with life-threatening cancer, and had symptoms of anxiety or depression.

The research, led by Roland Griffiths at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, compared the effects of psilocybin with different doses:

  • 25 participants received a very low dose – between 1mg and 3mg per 70kg; and
  • 26 were given a moderately high dosage of between 22mg and 30mg per 70kg.

After five weeks, the higher dosage group showed signs of much lower mental health problems compared to the low dose group. The results were also recorded six months after the initial chemical compound, psilocybin, was given.

Scientists also noted that on days that the chemical was given, the participants receiving the higher dosage showed "substantially greater effects, including perceptual changes [and] mystical-type subjective experiences."

Magic Mushroom
The psilocybin chemical used to treat depression and anxiety is found in magic mushrooms Martin Malec/Flickr

This study follows research carried out in 2011 which showed psilocybin effectively decreased anxiety and depression in 12 cancer patients. Results from that study showed depression had declined by 30% after six months.

"We were pleased with results," said Charles Grob, lead author of the 2011 study. "They're not substances that should be used recreationally or casually, but nonetheless it appears that we can conduct research with these compounds safely."

Psilocybin is a chemical compound found in around 200 species of mushrooms. The effects of the compound are subjective, and include changes in perception, a distorted sense of time, hallucinations, and even nausea.