The use of recreational drugs has always been eyed as something shady which youngsters indulge in to result in hours of vacant-eyed staring or frenzied partying. However, trials have begun, to delve into the medicinal properties of drugs to help people deal with mental illnesses.
In a recent study reported by NBC News, the psychotropic component of psilocybin mushrooms (also known as magic mushrooms) was administered to cancer patients, in whom the disease was at a very advanced stage. Two teams of doctors found that this resulted in a change in the volunteers, who felt more relaxed and happy. The disease weighs heavily on their mind and almost 40 to 50 percent of patients suffer from depression and anxiety as well as hopelessness.
Gale Cowan, a 73-year old adult literacy teacher, is a victim of recurring breast cancer since 2003. Gale is aware that the cancer might take her life.
Gale revealed to NBC News,
It was sort of like this deep sense of dread, that this cancer was stalking me. And every time I think I beat it back, it would catch up with me again. It was coming back every two or three years.
Gale signed up as a volunteer for the study as she had already had experience with LSD, which has similar effects, in her earlier years.
Researchers made the volunteers feel at ease with soothing music and surrounded them with various objects to look at, like books, statues and flowers. Therapists were also present, as researchers administered the synthetic form of an ingredient present in the shrooms. Almost 80 percent of the patients revealed that their anxiety and depression levels had lowered significantly, as they had life altering experiences under the effects of the drug.
We found that a single dose of psilocybin immediately reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients that had advanced cancer and life-threatening forms of cancer.
Dr. Stephen Ross, director of addiction psychiatry at New York University's Langone Medical Center told NBC News.
While many under the influence of the drug were terrified initially, the drug helped them confront their fears and brought about a change in them which was highly therapeutic.
Dinah Bazer, one of the volunteers revealed,
Initially it was absolutely terrifying. I was just terrified.
But the drug helped her erase the anxiety she felt about her cancer diagnosis.
I saw my fear. The fear was gone.
Gale Cowan, who had a similar experience revealed,
I felt this connection with everything. There's something that I go into and become a part of and that's pretty cool. My experience tells me that it's not a big nothing after I'm gone.
She is a calmer person now and can deal with stress in a positive way. The drug has helped her fall asleep at night with a smile on her face.
Rob Sweeney, another volunteer says,
I was floating on this immense expansive infinite sea of strength and beauty. There was no difference between that infinite sea and me.
Both teams, one at NYU consisting of 29 patients and another at John Hopkins University, consisting of 51 patients found similar results.
Medical practitioners might actually be on to something with regards to this experiment.
Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine says,
The most interesting and remarkable finding is that a single dose of psilocybin, which lasts four to six hours, produced enduring decreases in depression and anxiety symptoms, and this may represent a fascinating new model for treating some psychiatric conditions.
This is not to say that people can randomly ingest shrooms for medicinal values, the experiment was carried out in a controlled environment with experts present and patients were screened for any history of mental illnesses.
However, there have been other studies involving the medicinal properties of drugs which have proved useful in treating mental disorders.
The Food and Drug Administration approved an experiment involving Ecstacy to treat post traumatic stress disorder. LSD was being used to decipher mental illnesses and come up with better ways to treat them. That was until people started using them for fun and getting into scary trips which actually augmented signs of schizophrenia.
However, these experiments are still in the testing stage and should only be carried out under strict medical guidelines. Since results look promising, we can only hope that this can evolve into a cure which can help millions of people suffering from mental illnesses.