Monday, December 5, 2016

Psilocybin reduces death anxiety in cancer patients?

Image result for psilocybin for cancer
What are you hippies up to now? There are some problems with this study: 1) It calls itself a randomized, double-blind clinical trial, but the control arm of the study was administered a homeopathic dose of psilocybin (i.e., an inactive placebo). If you want to show that your intervention does something worthwhile, please put it up against a real intervention. 2) As for the "double-blind," when asked to guess the dose (10 = max), the "monitors" rated the high-dose patients as 7.0 (mean) versus 1.7 for the low-dose -- meaning they could clearly tell. 3) Also, something really funky happened with the LAP-R Death Acceptance scores (measuring death anxiety). There was significant improvement in the high-dose group 5-weeks after the session, but then at 10-weeks the low-dose/placebo group caught up to them for some reason -- 10 weeks after the session there were no significant differences between the high-dose and placebo groups on any measure (see Table 4 in the original study). So, the headlines should read: "Psilocybin treatment accelerates the natural reduction of death anxiety in cancer patients by 5 weeks."

If you want to reduce your death anxiety, may I humbly suggest Plato's Phaedo, Marcus Aurelius, Spinoza, and/or the New Testament.

NY Times
"On a summer morning in 2013, Octavian Mihai entered a softly lit room furnished with a small statue of Buddha, a box of tissues and a single red rose. From an earthenware chalice, he swallowed a capsule of psilocybin, an ingredient found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Then he put on an eye mask and headphones and lay down on a couch. Soon, images flew by like shooting stars: a spinning world that looked like a blue-green chessboard; himself on a stretcher in front of a hospital; his parents, gazing at him with aching sadness as he reached out to them, suffused with childlike love.
Psilocybin has been illegal in the United States for more than 40 years. But Mr. Mihai, who had just finished treatment for Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was participating in a study looking at whether the drug can reduce anxiety and depression in cancer patients. Throughout that eight-hour session, a psychiatrist and a social worker from NYU Langone Medical Center stayed by his side.
Published Thursday, the results from that study, and a similar small, controlled trial, were striking. About 80 percent of cancer patients showed clinically significant reductions in both psychological disorders, a response sustained some seven months after the single dose. Side effects were minimal.
In both trials, the intensity of the mystical experience described by patients correlated with the degree to which their depression and anxiety decreased."

Here are their data. See those significant differences between the active and control groups at Post 1 (5-weeks after session)? They are marked with an asterisk, indicating their statistical significance. Note how the significance disappears by 10-weeks. Again, very curiously, the placebo group improved between weeks 5 and 10; the treatment group didn't return to baseline. So, something's going on, and it's good -- but it ain't the psilocybin that's doing it.

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