Group Therapy Plays Important Role In New Study On Psilocybin For Depression In Cancer Patients

Of the 17 million Americans living with cancer, it is estimated that 25 percent are also affected by major depression.

Oncologist and clinical director at the Aquilino Cancer Center Dr. Manish Agrawal is the principal investigator of feasibility study looking at psilocybin therapy for cancer patients. He became interested in psilocybin when he noticed that while he treated cancer in patients, he didn’t treat their depression. 

This led him to conduct an FDA-approved clinical trial treating depression in cancer patients using psilocybin assisted psychotherapy, more specifically, a 25-mg dose of COMP360, a synthetic version of psilocybin formulated by Compass Pathways, in conjunction with group therapy.

Last week, Dr. Agrawal sat down with The Dales Report to talk about how common depression is in cancer patients, how psilocybin assisted psychotherapy has the potential to help, and just how rewarding the group element of therapy was for participants in the trial.

Why Some Cancer Patients Deny Their Depression

“I think there is a denial that goes on about the depression that cancer patients face, and I think it extends from the patient all the way up through the healthcare system,” he said. “Even the patient that has cancer and maybe has depression, has a hard time admitting it to themselves.” 

This can have a lot to do with stigma and guilt, says Agrawal, who added that seeing a doctor for just 15 minutes at a time, as our healthcare system so frequently requires, doesn’t help patients who are suffering.

“We’re not really trained to talk about it and think about it, and frankly, it takes up a lot of time, and we don’t necessarily always have the skills [to help],” he said.

The Group Element

The feasibility study Agrawal led was a novel design, in that it utilized group treatment rather than one-on-one therapy, using anywhere from two to four participants to a cohort. Here’s the catch: the participants received treatment at the same time, in separate rooms, but in very close proximity to one another.

Each participant received an individual prep session and participated in a group prep session before receiving a dose of psilocybin, which was administered to the participants of each group simultaneously.

“We have four treatment rooms, and all participants would take the psilocybin at the same time. Even though they’re in separate rooms right next to each other, they could hear each other. They had the experience simultaneously,” clarified Agrawal. 

“The next day, they came back for an integration all together and talked about the experience.” Agrawal said that since the trial ended, the group has still kept in touch with one another.

Pre-publication study findings showed 50 percent of all participants no longer had clinical depression eight weeks after a single dose of psilocybin and accompanying therapy, while about 80 percent of the people studied had their depression scores drop by at least 50 percent.

Watch the rest of the interview above to learn more about the specifics of the trial, and how Dr. Agrawal imagines this kind of treatment being implemented into healthcare.

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