With cancer responsible for about one in six deaths, it’s clear that there is a huge need for innovative, more effective treatment options. Many current cancer treatments simply seek to slow the spread of the disease, leaving patients unsure of their prognosis and decreasing their quality of life.

It’s no secret that cancer is a topic within many scientific circles. Researchers have searched for new treatments for decades, but there hasn’t been much progress regarding comfort measures. With a lack of resources for cancer patients being the norm, many individuals and their families are still searching for options that will improve their quality of life and provide mental health support.

The answer to this may lie in an underutilized area: psychedelics.

Cancer and Mental Health

“Cancer” is a word nobody wants to hear from their doctor. Unfortunately, many physicians today are so focused on the physical effects of cancer that they neglect the mental and emotional impacts. While slowing the spread of disease is undoubtedly a priority, it’s also essential that patients receive holistic care that considers every aspect of their being.

When discussing cancer and mental health, it’s essential to realize just how impactful someone’s emotional state can be on their overall well-being. In fact, the AMA Journal of Ethics believes implementing mental health support could save lives, as psychological disorders that are left unchecked can increase mortality rates in cancer patients.

Statistics show how prevalent mental health struggles are in the cancer community. With oncology patients being three times more likely to develop major depressive disorder, there is a clear need for more support options to be presented and made accessible. 

One study found that individuals with cancer and a common mental disorder were less likely to access psychological treatment than individuals with a common mental disorder but no cancer. This shows the true nature of mental health in many clinical oncology situations: ignored, undervalued, and disregarded.

Comprehensive Support

Understanding how cancer impacts mental health is important, but there hasn’t been much research done in this area. Assessing mental health in cancer patients is about more than just rating their happiness and sadness on a scale of one to ten. There are a variety of different factors and emotions that must be accounted for.

Cancer is not something that begins with a diagnosis and ends when treatment ceases. Instead, cancer often continues to impact individuals and those close to them for the rest of their lives. Because of this, future research must take into account the length of effects cancer can have on someone’s mental health.

Providing cancer patients with mental health support is not an attempt to help them forget their diagnosis. Instead, support encourages individuals to find ways to cope and accept their feelings. Everyone has a different journey after their cancer diagnosis, so there’s a large need for mental health support to be tailored to each individual.

Introducing Psychedelics

Psychedelics are still largely understood. Though they have made a significant resurgence in the past couple of years, the general public still has many misconceptions about the applications of psychedelics.

Psychedelics are about more than seeing colorful shapes and objects during a trip. They have the potential to be powerful therapeutic tools that can help individuals across a variety of spectrums to improve their mental health and deal with both past and present traumas.

Recent research has examined psychedelic use for a variety of mental health concerns, but there are still many questions that remain. One pressing question many are asking is… Could psychedelics be the key to improved mental health among cancer patients?

It’s important to note that there is no correlation between psychedelic use and cancer. Some research done decades ago suggested cancer may have some carcinogenic possibilities, but those studies were unfounded. Current research has not found that previous psychedelic use leads to a cancer diagnosis, so it’s important to dispel this myth.

Psychedelics, Mental Health, and Cancer

While extensive research has not been done to understand how psychedelics could benefit cancer patients, there are some notable studies.

A recently published literature review found that most previous research focused on serotonergic psychedelics and their ability to impact psychiatric distress. Six studies showed psychedelic therapy can affect depression, fear of death, and anxiety. In the majority of studies, psilocybin was the main psychedelic used.

Existential distress is commonly experienced in cancer patients. This is perhaps one of the most direct applications for psychedelics, as they’ve been found to alleviate and lessen distress. There is not currently a pharmaceutical option that specifically targets existential distress, so psychedelics could create a new avenue for mental health treatment in cancer patients.

If you’re still on the fence about using psychedelics for cancer patients, your mind will most likely be changed once you hear real-life stories from clinical trials. One trial participant with metastatic breast cancer had a revolutionary psychedelic session. After taking psilocybin, she felt compelled to confront her death, a thought that had previously terrified her. After her session, she had a renewed sense of purpose and a calm she hadn’t ever experienced before.

Her death was still going to be a reality, but it was one that she felt at peace with.

This calm acceptance is something that can’t easily be reached without interventions. While years of therapy can help individuals arrive at this point, even one psychedelic session can yield incredible results. Unfortunately, some cancer patients don’t have years to work with a therapist; in those situations, psychedelic options can provide welcome relief on a shorter timeline.

Our current treatments for cancer patients have so many gaps. It’s time to acknowledge that the answer might lie in unconventional options. Exploring the possibilities of psychedelics can provide mental health support and holistic benefits not currently offered.