Potential Therapeutic Effects of Psilocybin


Psychedelic compounds have been in use over the centuries by various indigenous people. One of the first psychedelic, mescaline, was isolated in 1897 by Arthur Heffter. However, it was the identification and synthesis of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in 1943 [1] that psychedelics came into prominence.

Over 1000 clinical papers have been published on psychedelics, including 40,000 trialists between 1950 and the mid-1960s [2]. These studies were administered to research their impact on psychotherapy, where they proved to be effective. However, the ban on their use in the 1970s put an end to their use in treatment, and rigorous studies lacked a concerted idea about their efficacy.

Modern research has seen psychedelic impact being gauged again concerning cancer-related distress and addiction. While LSD was predominantly studied in the past, a similar psychedelic, Psilocybin, is now under focus due to its close pharmacological association to LSD.

Psilocybin naturally occurs in 100+ mushrooms species. It is a small compound and can be metabolized through in vivo dephosphorylation to psilocin.

Psilocin is an active agent in the central nervous system and has behavioral effects. Renewed focus on psychedelics and psilocybin, in general, has been attributed to its low physiological toxicity. Moreover, it has lower abuse liability even when self-administered [3].

Treatment for Cancer-Related Psychiatric Distress

In controlled trials with minuscule dosage, subjects with psychosis tendencies were excluded, along with individuals at high risk for cardiovascular problems. The results have been promising in trialists with anxiety-related disorders concerning cancer. It showed that from baseline screening to the 3-month follow-up, anxiety was reduced. Six-month follow-up depression outcomes were also significantly reduced, while no clinically adverse events were recorded [4].

When larger doses of psilocybin have been administered to treat cancer patients’ depression and anxiety, positive clinical outcomes are observed. This was consistent with 5-week and 6-month follow-ups. Compared with low dosage results, patients receiving high dose continued to show continued improvement for successive months after only a single administration. Moreover, it was also recorded that approximately 80% of subjects showed clinically significant decrease in depressed mood and anxiety [5].

Treatment-Resistant Depression

Psilocybin has also been under trial to gauge its impact on treatment-resistant major depression [6]. Patients received two doses a week-apart with positive results recorded immediately. In 1-week and 3-month followups, depressive symptoms were measured by the Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptoms against baseline scores. An improvement was marked across the board, in-line with the pattern observed for anxiety by the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI).


Addiction research with psychedelics began in the 1950s [7]. It proved to be effective amongst alcoholics and led to self-proclaimed sobriety. A recent meta-analysis of 6 studies (total participants = 536) where LSD was administered, a significant decrease in alcohol consumption one-month after exposure was observed [8].

The use of psilocybin in the treatment of addiction is not at an advanced stage. However, pilot studies have shown that they can be safely used on more extensive clinical trials to test their efficacy. Smokers were given psilocybin for cognitive behavioral therapy, and it was recorded that 80% of respondents from the small group of 15 abstained from smoking at the 6-month follow up. [9].


In limited research on psilocybin, it has shown promise in becoming an effective therapeutic technique. While it has proved to be useful for cancer-related psychiatric distress, the study is limited to its use as a treatment for addiction and depression—a promise for psilocybin. However, in limited trials with limited scope, psilocybin has proved to be effective. There is a dire need for more significant research to realize the benefits of psilocybin use clinically.


Johnson M, Griffiths R. Potential Therapeutic Effects of Psilocybin. Neurotherapeutics. 2017 Jul; 14(3): 734–740. DOI: 10.1007/s13311-017-0542-y


  1. Hofmann A, Ott J. LSD, my problem child. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1980
  2. Grinspoon L. LSD Reconsidered. Sciences 1981;21:20-23.
  3. Passie T, Seifert J, Schneider U, Emrich HM. The pharmacology of psilocybin. Addict Biol 2002;7:357-364
  4. Johnson MW, Sewell RA, Griffiths RR. Psilocybin dose-dependently causes delayed, transient headaches in healthy volunteers. Drug Alcohol Depend 2012;123:132-140.
  5. Griffiths RR, Johnson MW, Richards WA, Richards BD, McCannU, Jesse R. Psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences: immediate and persisting dose-related effects.Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2011;218:649-665.
  6. Carhart-Harris RL, Bolstridge M, Rucker J, et al. Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: an open-label feasibility study. Lancet Psychiatry 2016;3:619-627
  7. Chwelos N, Blewett DB, Smith CM, Hoffer A. Use of d-lysergic acid diethylamide in the treatment of alcoholism. Q J Stud Alcohol 1959;20:577-590.
  8. Krebs TS, Johansen P. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) for alco-holism: meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. JPsychopharmacol 2012;26:994-1002
  9. Johnson MW, Garcia-Romeu A, Cosimano MP, Griffiths RR. Pilot Study of the 5-HT2AR agonist psilocybin in the treatment of tobac-co addiction. J Psychopharmacol 2014;28:983-992.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *