Magic Mushrooms Can Ease Anxiety of Late-Stage Cancer

UCLA study finds magic mushrooms can help curb the anxiety of advanced cancer.

ByABC News
April 18, 2010, 5:19 PM

Sept. 7, 2010— -- When 55-year-old California software developer Pam Sakuda was diagnosed with metastic colon cancer and given six to 14 months to live, she took antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to help her cope with the fear and uncertainty of such a diagnosis.

By the time Sakuda underwent surgery in 2002, her cancer had spread throughout her body. She embarked on grueling nonstop chemotherapy as she continued to live beyond doctors' expectations.

"There was a tremendous amount of stress, and we were getting more nervous," said Sakuda's husband, Norbert Litzinger, a retired operations manager. "When you have a death sentence and it doesn't come, it puts even more pressure on. What is the future? It's pervasive and it overcomes you."

But all that changed in January 2005 when Sakuda participated with 12 other adults who had advanced-stage cancer in a UCLA study on the use of hallucinogens to treat end-of-life anxiety. They were all given psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound in "magic mushrooms."

The pilot study was the first of three others -- one at New York University and one at Johns Hopkins University -- undertaken to evaluate the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in palliative care.

The results were published today in the journal General Psychiatry. Sponsored by the Heffter Research Institute and the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, the research found that psilocyn had a positive effect on mood and anxiety.

Sakuda died Nov. 10, 2006, but for nearly two years after her psilocybin treatment, she lived life fully, exercising with weights, going to music concerts, even hiking the north rim of the Grand Canyon, according to her husband.

"It was an absolutely tragic situation," said Litzinger. "But the treatment allowed her to have 22 months filled with joy. She died at our home in my arms with her cat. The Saturday before her death she was at a fundraiser giving a speech, and had hiked 15 miles three weeks before that."