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Experts Call for Psychedelics to Be Investigated as Cancer Distress Treatments

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A panel of expert authors is calling on authorities to facilitate the study of psychedelic compounds as cancer distress treatments. In a paper published in the “International Journal of Gynecological Cancer,” the authors noted that women with late-stage gynecologic tumors often deal with mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and end-of-life distress.

As research has found that psychedelics such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms) have the potential to treat mental conditions, including PTSD and treatment-resistant depression, this patient population could benefit from the launch of scientific efforts to study psychedelics’ effects on cancer distress symptoms.

University of Texas Department of head and neck surgery assistant professor and coauthor Moran Amit, MD, PhD, wrote that women with late-stage gynecologic cancers often face significant psychological challenges but have few means of clinically addressing these challenges.

Gynecologic cancers in women typically affect the reproductive system and affect around 100,000 American women every year. In addition, studies show that 23% of patients with gynecological cancers meet the criteria for major depressive disorder. According to a 2018 study, women with early-stage gynecological cancer are just as likely to develop psychological distress as women with late-stage gynecological cancer.

Unfortunately, most conventional treatment protocols for cancer focus on treating physical symptoms, often forcing patients to find means of alleviating mental distress on their own. A  growing body of research indicates that psychedelics present a viable alternative and may have potent mental health benefits with barely any side effects.

Amit pointed to prior studies exhibiting the effectiveness of psilocybin in treating cancer-associated depression and anxiety. These past studies informed Amit’s and his colleague’s decision to begin enrollment for a clinical trial to test the effectiveness of psilocybin in treating mental health challenges in patients with advanced cancer who are currently undergoing maintenance therapy.

During a recent interview, Amit said that while modern cancer treatments are improving treatment outcomes and helping patients live longer, cancer diagnosis and resultant treatment significantly reduce patients’ quality of life. In some cases, cancer survivors can go through treatment and end up with emotional and neurological deficits that make it harder for them to return to their normal lives.

The influx of psychedelic-related studies in recent years has provided “very compelling” findings, Amit said, and psilocybin has been especially effective at treating anxiety, depression, PTSD and even addiction. Furthermore, psilocybin-assisted therapy seems to provide relatively long-term emotional and physical benefits at minimal doses compared to conventional antidepressants, which require everyday use to be effective.

With anywhere from 33% to 71.3% of women with gynecological cancers estimated to suffer from depression, there is a major need for safer and more effective medications to treat gynecologic cancer-associated distress.

As entities such as atai Life Sciences N.V. (NASDAQ: ATAI) continue investigating the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, many more categories of patients could be targeted as primary beneficiaries of the treatments being developed.

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