The thought of dying was killing Kerry Pappas. Then the cancer patient took a trip on psilocybin – the active agent in "magic mushrooms." Ever since, she says she is perfectly comfortable with her life.
Pappas is one of dozens of cancer patients whose painful anxiety over their illness was commuted to more peaceful acceptance after participating in a study that involved intensive therapy and being given a drug that was once a symbol of the 60's counterculture. She and others, who say the psychedelic experience helped them overcome other problems like depression and addiction, talk to Anderson Cooper for a report on the study of psychedelics inside some of the country's foremost medical research centers. The story will be broadcast on "60 Minutes," Sunday, October 13, at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. PT on CBS.
Pappas was being treated for lung cancer when she was given the psilocybin. This is what she tells Cooper she saw. "An ancient, prehistoric, barren land… there's these men with pickaxes, just slamming on the rocks," she recalls. "I was being shown the truth of reality. Life is meaningless. We have no purpose." And then it hit her she says, "I look and I'm still like a witness with the eyes, a beautiful, shimmering bright jewel and then it was sound… booming, booming, booming. Right here right now. Yes, you are alive. Right here. Right now. Because that's all you have." She tells Cooper: "That is my mantra to this day."
Cooper speaks with participants and scientists who conduct clinical trials. Roland Griffiths, of Johns Hopkins University, is a pioneer in psychedelic research, which was studied extensively until former President Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Thirty years later, Griffiths received FDA approval for to study psilocybin. The results amazed him. "The red light started flashing. It's unprecedented – the capacity of the human organism to change. It just was astounding."
The experiences of the study participants on psychedelics, even under the highly controlled conditions used, are often harrowing but still worth it in the end. Researchers screen out people with psychotic disorders or with close relatives who have schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder. So far, none of the participants reports any serious adverse outcomes.
Griffiths said he is optimistic about the potential therapeutic value of the drugs but acknowledges they can be harmful under different circumstances. "Let's be really clear on that… We're very aware of the risks and would not recommend people simply go out and do this."