Panel Discussion: Psychedelics and Cancer

Written by Dr. Gabrielle Wolk, PsyD, Clinical Associate

On April 25th the Cancer Wellness Center featured a panel discussion on Psychedelics and Cancer, which I had the immense honor of moderating. The panel included Dr. Mendoza -Temple, the director of Integrative Health at Endeavor Health and Jean Lacy, the founder of Illinois Psychedelic Society and Illinois policy advocate.  

Dr. Mendoza-Temple first presented various types of psychedelic medicines and how they are being researched to treat a range of mental health conditions, including the use of psilocybin (or magic mushrooms) to treat cancer-related distress. She also emphasized the importance of understanding that the “Psychedelic Renaissance,” as it is often referred to, is not truly a renaissance at all; that this is just the Western, medicalized perspective of psychedelic medicines. She spoke of the importance of honoring those who came before us who used these medicines in sacred ceremonies for healing long before the current research and enthusiasm we see today in the psychedelic therapy field.  

Jean then presented the scheduling of various substances by the Federal government and a bill that was recently proposed in Illinois called the Compassionate Use and Research of Entheogens (CURE) Act. If eventually approved, this bill would pave the way for the development of designated service centers where individuals could go to access supported use of psilocybin for therapeutic purposes. Jean also discussed the power of individuals’ stories in shifting policies such as people sharing about their mental health struggles and hope for how psychedelic-assisted therapy might help.    

After Jean spoke, I gave a brief overview of a standard psychedelic-assisted therapy protocol being used in clinical trials and emphasized the importance of set, setting, and support in reducing the risk of challenging psychedelic experiences and maximizing their potential for healing. We then ended the panel with some time for questions and answers. The program touched on so many points surrounding this topic and even so, we did not have time to get to everyone’s questions. However, this leaves room for more psychedelic-related programs to come to the Center in the future.  

Research on Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy has gained momentum in the last decade or so after a 50 year pause when psychedelic substances became illegal. Though still illegal, it is undeniable that psychedelics are now being seriously researched and considered as a hopeful adjunct to traditional talk therapy and/or psychotropic medications that have their limits as to their efficacy. In fact, by August this year, the FDA is expected to decide whether to approve MDMA (widely known as Ecstasy) for treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in conjunction with talk therapy. If approval is granted, this will open the doors for other psychedelic medicines to be approved for a range of mental health issues. Most relevant to our community at Cancer Wellness Center, there is a wealth of promising research on Psilocybin–Assisted Psychotherapy for individuals facing cancer-related distress, depression, end of life anxiety, and demoralization.  

In case you missed the program, Panel Discussion: Psychedelics and Cancer, you can watch a recording here.