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Hallucinogenic drug found to help cancer patients fight anxiety, depression

NEW YORK -- After Dinah Bazer was treated for ovarian cancer in 2010, the next two years were filled with dread.

“All I thought about was the cancer, that it would come back and I would die of it,” Bazer said.

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Dinah Bazer

CBS News

“I felt like [the anxiety] was destroying my life.”

In 2012, Bazer became part of a study to treat anxiety and depression in cancer patients using the hallucinogenic drug psilocybin, the active ingredient in certain mushrooms.

“It’s highly common to have anxiety and depression at any stage of cancer,” said Dr. Stephen Ross, director of addiction studies at NYU Langone Medical Center, who led the study.

“The idea was that drugs like, initially, LSD and psyilocybin, which were known to induce spiritual or these unusual mystical states of consciousness, might help people who were having this … distress,” Ross said.

Bazer took the medication in a treatment room, with therapists present for support. During the session, she said she saw her fear inside her body.  

“It was a hard mass black under my ribcage. As soon as I visualized the fear, I became furious,” she said.

“In my mind I screamed ‘who the hell do you think you are, I won’t be eaten alive.’ From that moment, the fear was gone,” Bazer said.

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Dr. Stephen Ross

CBS News

The NYU study and a second one at Johns Hopkins followed a total of 80 patients for six months. A single dose produced rapid and lasting reduction of anxiety and depression in 60 to 80 percent of the patients.

“These are very rich, highly symbolic experiences,” Ross said. “We really think that probably this profound memory is what causing the therapeutic benefit so many months later.”

“I began to feel the most amazing love I’ve ever felt,” said Bazer. “I think my brain was rewired a little bit. And that’s why the fear is gone, and that love that I felt has done very well, very good things for me.”

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook