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Magic mushrooms may ease anxiety of cancer: study


2 Star

Magic mushrooms may ease anxiety of cancer: study

Our Review Summary

This story reports on a very small study suggesting that psilocybin, a compound found in hallucinogenic mushrooms, reduces anxiety in patients with advanced-stage cancer. While the story failed to meet many of our criteria, it should have at the very least, acknowledged the limitations of a trial that only contains 12 people.  


Why This Matters

A study of 12 people for a disorder that already has effective treatments may not matter at all.  While there is always room for better treatments, we are a long way from showing any advantages for this compound.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There would have been two ways to approach costs in this case. The first would be to ask local, state or federal law enforcement sources for ballpark estimates of the street value of the drugs involved. The second would be to ask the researchers how much they spent to obtain the drugs.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory
The story did not provide any data and only indicated, rather vaguely, that patients seemed “somewhat less anxious.” 

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory
The story suggests that the treatment was safe; however, the research showed that psilocybin significantly increased heart rate and blood pressure, compared to the placebo.  In addition, the research did not report any serious adverse events in 12 patients, but that still leaves open the possibility that up to 25% of patients would have serious adverse events based on confidence intervals.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory
While the story pointed out the two major strengths of the study design, randomization and double blinding, it would have been even better if it mentioned why these methods are important. The story also failed to point out that a study of just 12 people is extremely small and additional studies are needed to verify the results. Based on this story, we know very little about the study participants. For example, it would be helpful for the reader to know that the patients had various types of anxiety, eight out of the 12 of them had prior experience with hallucinogens, and four people died before the study concluded. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

The story did not engage in disease-mongering. The story also failed, though, to provide any information on what types of cancer the patients had, nor did it mention the level of anxiety or depression that the patients were experiencing. Without this information the reader could wrongly conclude that all cancer patients, with any type of anxiety, may benefit from this treatment. 

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory
The story did not quote any independent sources. The story also failed to mention that study authors, Drs. Grob and Greer, serve on the board of directors for the Heffter Research Institute, which provided partial funding for the study and exists to promote research on hallucinogens.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory
There was no mention of existing treatments for anxiety disorders, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or medication. 

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

The story makes it clear that psilocybin is not legal in the U.S.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

The story makes it clear that the use of hallucinogens for treating anxiety dates back to the 1950s.  

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

This piece does not rely on a press release. You can read the release here:

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory


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