Medical researchers are investigating the health benefits of hallucinogenic drugs including magic mushrooms and LSD, or "acid", which they believe can help cancer sufferers come to terms with death and break addictions.

US studies have found that people suffering from anxiety or depression who receive even a single "dose" of hallucinogens respond extremely positively – and those suffering from cancer have the most positive effects of all.

Studies also found that when the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, psilocybin, was given to smokers, it became easier to break the habit. In a study in Baltimore, 12 out of 15 smokers given the drug remained abstinent after six months, far higher than with most therapies.

Magic mushrooms
Magic mushrooms are thought to help people who smoke give up the habit Getty

Now, researchers at Imperial College London are recruiting volunteers to undergo drug trials using hallucinogens – the first in almost half a century – the Sunday Times reports. Scientists believe research into hallucinogens have been hampered by the fears of successive governments that people might be more tempted to use them recreationally if the positive effects were published.

Professor David Nutt, former government advisor on illicit drugs and now director of Imperial's neuropsychopharmacological unit, said it was "vital" that research abandoned in the '60s be started again.

"It was absurd that science had to stop in an attempt to prevent recreational drug use," said Professor Nutt. "We've been the Dark Ages for the past 45 years."

LSD was legal in the US until 1970, when Richard Nixon included it in the Controlled Substances Act, and despite a wealth of studies showing potential benefits to alcoholics, the terminally ill and those with other health problems, little research has been done in the meantime.

Now, The New Yorker reports, cancer sufferers who have been given psilocybin have reported a new acceptance of their condition. Patrick Mettes, a 54-year-old TV executive who has cancer of the bile ducts, said on taking the drug: "From here on, love was the only consideration. It was and is the only purpose. Love seemed to emanate from a single point of light. And it vibrated."