Researchers call for exploring the therapeutic properties of psychedelics in women with gynecologic cancers, who are especially vulnerable to diagnose-related distress.
Up to one in four ovarian cancer patients report depression, anxiety, and death anxiety. Young gynecologic cancer patients often experience fear related to the fact that their young children may lose their mothers.
In their commentary published in the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer, the researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center describe a patient in her late 30s with end-stage ovarian cancer and multiple sites of bowel obstruction. The patient, a mother of two young children, has "real and overwhelming" fear for her future, they write.
While the usual means to reduce distress in cancer patients, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, are proven to be effective, they require time and commitment to change habits. However, the said patient "does not have the time or stamina for that kind of work."
The authors emphasize that psychedelics, specifically psilocybin, have shown promise in treating various psychological symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and end-of-life distress. Australia now allows prescribing of psilocybin for patients with treatment-resistant depression, while MDMA was authorized to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although a study on gynecologic cancers has yet to be completed, the studies on patients with mixed cancer diagnoses are encouraging.
Psychedelics have been associated with therapeutic effects such as increased neuroplasticity and modulation of reward pathways, similar to the mechanisms underlying conventional antidepressants.
Research suggests that one to two sessions of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy may be sufficient to provide lasting benefits, whereas selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors require chronic use. Moreover, concerns over psilocybin’s potential for recreational abuse or mental illness have not materialized. In fact, data suggests that psilocybin may protect against suicidality.
"Considering the prevalence of existential distress among ovarian and other gynecologic cancer patients and the potential benefits and safety of psychedelics, there is a clear need for more well-designed protocols prioritizing safety and exploring psilocybin, and other psychedelics, in this vulnerable population," the authors conclude.
Psilocybin was available in the United States under the brand name Indocybin® and marketed for psychotherapeutic uses until 1966 when it was classified as a Schedule I substance.
Currently, there are 12 trials involving psilocybin and cancer patients underway. The studies show promising results, such as improvements in cancer-related anxiety.
As a single dose of psilocybin might have a lasting effect, it could improve the quality of life for the time remaining in gynecologic cancer patients.
- International Journal of Gynecological Cancer. Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for cancer-related anxiety and depression.