A TGB EXTRA: The Alex and Ronni Show
INTERESTING STUFF – 5 January 2019

Magic Mushrooms, Cancer and the End of Life – Part 1

As you might imagine, a diagnosis of terminal cancer can and does produce high levels of depression and/or anxiety in a large number of patients. Not to mention freaking, mind-bending fear.

I have, over the past two months or so, had debilitating attacks of dread that seem to rattle every cell in my body and leave me terrified.

Such responses are so well-known that for some time now there have been research scientists who are working to find ways to relieve these fears and anxieties.

A few years before this cancer predicament presented itself in my life in 2017, I began tracking reports of these studies. Most of them involve a person's ingestion of psilocybin, known colloquially as magic mushrooms.

You might recall that psilocybin, along with marijuana, mescalin and a few other hallucinogens, are among the substances many of our generation who were interested in altering our consciousnesses experimented with in the druggie 1960s.

Besides smoking pot regularly, I took three acid (LSD) trips back in those days. They were fascinating.

One of the most well-known, recent psilocybin studies took place at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. From the medical journal report's introduction (emphasis mine throughout this post):

”Cancer patients often develop a chronic, clinically significant syndrome of psychosocial distress having depressed mood, anxiety, and reduced quality of life as core features...In cancer patients, depression and anxiety have been associated with decreased treatment adherence...prolonged hospitalization...decreased quality of life...and increased suicidality...

And from the conclusion:

”The data show that psilocybin produced large and significant decreases in clinician-rated and self-rated measures of depression, anxiety or mood disturbance, and increases in measures of quality of life, life meaning, death acceptance, and optimism.

“These effects were sustained at 6 months. For the clinician-rated measures of depression and anxiety, respectively, the overall rate of clinical response at 6 months was 78% and 83% and the overall rate of symptom remission was 65% and 57%.

“Participants attributed to the high-dose experience positive changes in attitudes about life, self, mood, relationships and spirituality, with over 80% endorsing moderately or higher increased well-being or life satisfaction.

“These positive effects were reflected in significant corresponding changes in ratings by community observers (friends, family, work colleagues) of participant attitudes and behavior.”

If you have a tolerance for charts, statistics and scientific jargon, you can read the entire report here.

Another cancer-psilocybin study at New York University (NYU) concluded that a

”...single moderate-dose psilocybin (in conjunction with psychotherapy) was safely administered to a cohort of patients with cancer-related psychological distress (e.g. anxiety, depression).

“It produced rapid and sustained anxiolytic and anti-depressant effects (for at least 7 weeks but potentially as long as 8 months), decreased cancer-related existential distress, increased spiritual wellbeing and quality of life, and was associated with improved attitudes towards death.

You can read this entire report here (with similar statistics, charts and jargon as the Hopkins study). There have been and are ongoing other studies producing remarkably similar results.

Something big is going on with psilocybin. You may have heard of or even read Michael Pollan's 2018 book, How to Change Your Mind, about what he calls the “new science of psychedelics.” I don't want to bury you in long quotations, but here is part of his response to his psilocybin research, having also tripped on it himself:

In a follow-up to the NYU study, Pollan reports,

”A few key themes emerged. All of the patients interviewed described powerful feelings of connection to loved ones...and, more generally, a shift 'from feelings of separateness to interconnectedness.'

“In most cases, this shift was accompanied by a repertoire of powerful emotions including 'exalted feelings of joy, bliss, and love.' Difficult passages during the journey were typically followed by positive feelings of surrender and acceptance (even of their cancers) as people's fears fell away.

With evidence of such positive results piling up, you wonder why psilocybin is not made available to terminally ill cancer and other patients. The reason is that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) lists it as a Schedule 1 drug: no prescriptions may be written and limited use is allowed for study.

That may be changing. Efforts are underway in Oregon and Denver to decriminalize magic mushrooms:

”Advocates with the Oregon Psilocybin Society received formal approval last week to move ahead with their language for a 2020 state ballot initiative that would reduce criminal penalties on psilocybin and allow for its use during 'guided sessions' at state-licensed facilities,” reports Vice News.

“Decriminalization efforts have moved a little further in Denver, where advocates have already started gathering signatures to put an initiative of their own on the municipal ballot in May 2019 that would decriminalize personal use, possession, and growth at the local level.”

Okay. Now you've got some background on magic mushrooms. Part 2 is here.



Comments

It seems to me that when my time comes I shouldn't waste too much time with onlookers who presume to tell me how to approach it.
I don't imagine that self-medicating with psilocybin or whatever will stunt your growth at this point or change the outcome.
None of us knows with certainty what's on the other side of that curtain and I expect I'll be as anxious as anyone when I get to it. I can't think of any good reason to add anxiety to everything you're dealing with.

Do anything you want.

Eugene is a pretty loose community for this sort of thing. There's a helpful woman there whose name I can provide if you want. I don't know her personally though I know of her and have met her. She's around our age. Feel free to email me.

I missed the 60s, living in a little-known town called Lake Oswego at the time. So I made up for it later, after the kids were on their own, or some facsimile of that. Having a knowledgeable guide is imperative, whether for mushrooms or the stronger LSD-type things, as they provide the sense of security, giving the recipient freedom to let go and have a full experience.

And I won't hesitate to use them again, if desired.

But does it make you trip? I'd go halfway to hell to avoid going through that experience again.

Interesting!

Yes, yes, and yes, for people who would like this reportedly very positive experience! Elders getting to have some control over their dying experience will be a wonderful, empowering thing. I heard Michael Pollan on "Fresh Air," was impressed, and his book, "How to Change Your Mind," is on my list.
I hate that you are experiencing times of deep fear and/or depression, and hope that it abates for whatever reason. I wonder if people in other, more death friendly cultures experience this, or if it is something related to the physical cancer itself, or the drugs, or chemotherapy?
Having said that, a friend once said to me during my cancer years ago, "The bones are never afraid." To which I replied, "You wanna bet?"

This is weird - Around 3 years ago I read a New Yorker article about psilocybin. It led me to call my psychiatrist [I had stopped seeing him years before for what I would call general neurosis]. I wanted to try it rather than just my current meds which are none but "put on your rose coloured glasses and go forth ..." but of course it is still illegal but I am waiting - and continue to see my psychiatrist!! I have a feeling magic mushrooms are going to open many doors re mental illness. I have an alert on it. Ronnie - I wonder if you couldn't get in on the trials? - there are videos of them. Good luck or maybe it is better to say have a good day today. The sun is shining in Toronto - hope it will shine fo you too.

I've been reading (Pollans research) and hearing (NPR and more) about this and am heartened by the research that may provide a shift in perception for people not only dying, but suffering from PTSD. Very exciting, and the sooner it is available in controlled yet accessible settings, the better!

I hope the Time Goes By site stays up for the next decade or so...I know I will be returning to it for comfort and information, laughter and more. Ronnie, you and your readers are a treasure.

Scary stuff and I'm inclined to want to bury my head under a pillow to drown out the sounds of people talking about hallucinogenic drugs. Carry on while I go get my pillow.

Thank you Ronni for bringing this to our attention. I will read Pollan's book as well.

Another valuable post from you!

Natural, inexpensive, and effective: of course, it's banned.

Thinking of you.
o/

Never a dull moment here at TGB. I keep wondering who you would like to play you in the movie of your life!

I'm taking notes in case my cancer returns; I have enough anxiety just thinking it might. My oncologist promised me all the anti-anxiety drugs I wanted, but I doubt he was including psilocybin. I live in a Denver bedroom community and hadn't heard about this. Thanks for the heads up.

My guess is that Part II of this post will include your getting some psilocybin. I hope so, and I hope it helps.

As a therapist and drug and alcohol counselor for years, I had to be knowledgable about drugs and how they effect people. My concern for younger people is that pot only masks depression etc, it does not cure anything, but then, neither do psych meds. Often their lives go to pieces as they self medicate. As to LSD and shrooms, many did not have good trips. I strongly recommend that you have an experienced person to walk you through a session. And, I personally have chosen to study my inner being very closely instead of avoiding it, as with drugs. I recommend Buddhism to help understand how to cope with life and death. Any kind of meditation will help calm the fears. Best of luck to you in this fearsome journey. Love and Light

I'm all for psychotherapy, using it myself on and off, gaining new perspectives. My thoughts are that it and prescriptions when necessary do good. They help to navigate our society, such as help in how to get by, norms, expectations and other nuances that come from living here (cannot speak for other cultures) and far outweigh the use of alcohol for same.

And I strongly support the use of stronger hallucinogens, ONLY for people who have been initially 'screened', are comfortable with their guide and fully understand and agree to the process and effects. This is going inside oneself,(versus the above), and might or might not initiate changes in thoughts, and actions, but at the least provide exquisiteness and opportunity. To my mind, this must be regarded as a sacred medicine.


So glad to see you writing about this. I'm halfway through Pollan's book and am finding it fascinating. It's not fast reading, which is why it's taking so long. I went on line and discovered that one can have a safe, guided trip in Amsterdam, though it's pretty pricey--about 1500 pounds. I bet you may have intimate knowledge of the underground though--can't wait to hear!

Go for it. My experiences with psilocybin were much more organic and helpful than LSD. I had a not-so-pleasant time on LSD on a couple of occasions, but never on mushrooms. Think of a piece of your favorite fruit, fully ripened and flavorful, as compared to a packet of Sweet and Low. You are the captain of this ship. You are beyond the reactive and unjust laws regarding potential health benefits or what you can or cannot do in your situation. We need more professional, thorough scientific investigation, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence regarding the use of mushrooms and cacti. I recommend that you check out the account of the death of Gregory Bateson, long-time husband of Margaret Mead. I’ll try to find specific resources. Love you, Ronni.

I too, hope that Time Goes By stays available for years - until I need it. So much valuable info and good, thoughtful comments!! Bravo, Ronni.

I'll be following this with great interest. Back in the '60s, I never tried LSD because I thought it sounded terrifying, and I didn't want to hurt myself--I was too busy drinking myself nearly to death in my twenties. I somehow survived that, and I'm very cautious about meds that affect the mind. (I'm not including antidepressants here.) I see Mary, above, said she'd go halfway to hell to avoid tripping. I resonate with that. But Pollan and the studies are certainly VERY intriguing. Thinking, thinking . . .

I loved the Pollan book. The guided trips reduced and/or removed the fear and dread of death. As a lung cancer survivor who lives daily with cancer and daily with the acknowledgement that mortality is real and to be reckoned with, I think the research is brilliant. We all should have access to that which allows us to truly dance with the dance of life-- which by definition is finite. Thank you for making others aware of this work.

I mentioned in a comment on a post here a few days ago that my mother, who's 88 and has been in a care facility since January of 2018 due to a fall and worsening of the dementia that she had been succumbing to before that, seemed to be shutting down last week. Hospice had been called in and last weekend they called the family in thinking that she might reach her end before the end of the weekend.

I was pleasantly surprised how peaceful and comfortable she was, especially since she had been taken off all the medication she had been put on for anxiety and agitation. She has not been in any pain and has no other health issues other than the dementia, so medication has been minimal. But I'm familiar with how anti-anxiety medication can affect the elderly and it definitely seemed to affect her in ways other than quieting her. Having been off of that for a few days, she seemed much more herself than I'd seen in her almost a year. She's never had a diagnosis of cancer or any other life-threatening medical condition, and, other than a broken hip two decades ago, had not been in the hospital since having a hysterectomy more than 30 years ago. I don't think I could ever imagine her using mushrooms or cannabis for relief. simply because of the difference in generations and what she grew up believing, so I'm thankful that she now seems so accepting of everything, and is just communicating her love to everyone around her.

That day felt like such a gift for all of us, and I will always be grateful for those moments. That visit with her family seems to have helped her rally significantly , but I am not expecting any miracles. She has lived well beyond the age of her parents and most of her siblings, and the dementia is not reversing itself. I'm just thankful that she seems to be having good days now and accepting what may come, and I hope that continues to the end.

'Shrooms work very well.

My husband helped his brother with this particular project.

Ross was dying of cancer. experiencing the physical and mental of which you write.

Calm. Connected. Joy. He was awed and aware.

You go, Woman!!!

I'm a product of the 60's, like so many of us. Certainly used my share of cannabis, and tried several other "recreational" products through the early years. I took LSD 2 times and also mushrooms. I don't have an addictive personality, so I easily quit cannabis when I started raising a family and wanted and needed to be fully present.
I began using cannabis again when it became legal for "medicinal" purposes in California about 4 years ago. I got off my anxiety medication and now use cannabis for that and also insomnia. It has been a wonderful transition. I always hated putting chemicals in my body.
I have read Pollan's book and although it reads like a text book in parts, I found it extraordinary. I have been considering using "mind altering" potions again after reading the book, but have not made a move in that direction yet.
Can't wait for Part 2!!!!

And I'm with Mia.
A movie of Ronni's life. I'm thinking Meryl Streep.

If I were in your shoes, Ronni, I'd go for it. Makes perfect sense, although, at the same time, you wouldn't want to dampen your awareness of the death process. I dabbled in magic mushrooms many moons ago and was lucky to have survived with my sanity as well as not being committed or arrested. It Definately requires a measured approach. My problem is I was with three individuals that ate them out of a shopping bag like candy! Details are confidential and sealed in concrete at the bottom of the Salten Sea.

The Pollan book is on my to read pile. Fascinating stuff. Onward with your journey and your kindness in sharing it with us all.

XO
WWW

One of the reasons why psilocybin is used in the research instead of LSD is because of its limited duration—6 hours instead of 12, easily accommodated in the workday of a clinical. When you know a “trip” has limited duration, that lessens anxiety in and of itself.

One of the research conditions for Hopkins is using a blindfold to encourage you to “ go within.” I understand the reasoning, but I think it limits what is possible. When I took acid “back in the day” I always went into a beautiful natural place, whether a park or the woods near my home. The visuals were so intense, I could “see” plants breathe, and I felt like I was one with God’s creation, and that all living things deserve respect. I still think that 50 years later. Wouldn’t it be nice if our politicians came to this conclusion?

So glad you are looking into this Ronni. You are curious, you are resilient and thoroughly grounded , and facing your mortality. Sound like a perfect candidate to me.

Appreciate reading of all you undertake coping with your situation. I never know what my future might hold and I want to be aware of all possible treatments to consider for whatever I might experience. Competent research and studies with some of these more natural occurring items is long overdue. Look forward to your continued sharing your experience.

There is much that can be said for individual experiences reported outside of formal research which can provide direction for further scientific exploration, and should not be arbitrarily discounted. Certainly working with knowledgeable medical professionals is wise, safest and most beneficial for the individual and the effective dissemination of what is learned.

Good trip to ya! I'm of an age and spent my youth in a location where LSD, mescalin and mushrooms were all around. Some of that was good -- and some less so. I think now that chemicals may have been wasted on the young. I know I was nowhere near a realized individual in those days and my experiences reflected that.

You, Ronni, may be one of the most complete adults I know, so I suspect psilocybin may serve you well. As indeed, pretty much all human experience has/does. :-)

I can hardly wait for Part 2. I hope it says what I hope it's going to say.

I've been wanting to take it myself although there is not the urgency. My early-'70a psychedelic explorations (which got as far as one cap of synthetic mescaline and then half a cap accompanied by marijuana -- magical trips in different ways, but not emotionally profound) were cut short by meeting Mr. Clean, a.k.a Jacques, who insisted I flush the remaining mescaline caps down the toilet. He was bigger than me.

So I have a kind of unfinished business with those substances, and plenty of same with myself which I've long had a hunch psilocybin could facilitate. For a while I thought I would wait until my mother is no longer around, just in case anything unpredictable happened on either end — I need to be reliable at the drop of a hat for her. But she may be around for quite a while yet (she's 95 . . . I wish she could share some years, like airline miles, wth you, Ronni) and she would probably be exceedingly interested in hearing all about it, though whether she would venture it herself I somewhat doubt.

But I may be underestimating her.

I haven't had a psychedelic experience for 35 years or so, but your post certainly suggests the circumstances in which I'd use psilocybin or LSD again. I'll be interested in hearing how this opens up for you. Writing this comment released a flood of memories and made me want to share all of my experience with you. Lucky us, I decided not to overshare. I'll be interested in your follow-up posts on the topic, and the Michael Pollan book sounds interesting too.

post script... If I was embarking on a psychedelic journey, I'd avoid mescaline at this stage in my life. I remember it as nausea producing and who needs that?

Fifty years ago I was introduced to mescalin. I consumed it only once, but I still enjoy remembering the visions, feelings and changes of reality. Ronnie, you mentioned the feeling of interconnectedness. This is exactly what stayed with me since then. It was like it had taken away a curtain. I don’t know how to call it. Spirituality? Probably one doesen’t need substances to come to such insights. Every mind is kind of a whole universe. Well, maybe not every mind, at least not the mind of the genious in the White House... looking forward to part two. (Sorry for my limited knowledge of English)

I am all for anything that will ease the journey at end of life. Death is a natural part of life but there is no need for it to be painful and everyone should be allowed the personal freedom to do it in his or her own way.
Like a commenter above, I am more of the Buddhist/meditation persuasion, but when the time comes -- who knows.

Ronnie- dear lady, I am a very new reader of your blog, thanks to another longtime reader. I am also a retired hospice nurse and applaud your self care and mindful research into your end of life journey. I believe with every fiber of my being that YOU (or any terminal person) should have access to relief of whatever it is that YOU deem in need of relieving. That you choose to also educate us in your process is all the more benevolent. Just as every persons responses to situations in life are different, so is each response to approaching death. Preparation helps you, so do it. In your “preterminal life” you would have researched and planned steps to reach a goal, this is no different. Another step to consider is to start forming a close circle of people around you that know your wishes, are willing to partner with you in this journey, and will continue to advocate for you if and when you have times that you cannot.
Ronnie- you are an inspiration and a mentor to us all. (Not meant for that to intimidate you but to honor you.) Thank you for all your efforts- May your blessings continue to uplift you. Respect!

I can’t help but think of three things that have occurred in your life recently: Losing your beloved Oliver, though now you no longer need to worry what will happen to your beloved ankle biter; being “found” by your son; being led to a guide for this experience. I’m not conventionally religious; I believe there is “something,” I just don’t know what that “something” is. I do, however, believe something awe inspiring is happening in your life, and I thank you for sharing your experiences.

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