- A cancer survivor in her seventies says taking ‘magic’ mushrooms helped ease her depression.
- Kathleen Krall also suffered a miscarriage in her thirties during her trip.
- Scientists are investigating whether “magic” mushrooms can cure depression and other mental illnesses.
A cancer survivor in her seventies says a “magical” mushroom trip helped ease her depression and prevent a miscarriage in her thirties.
Kathleen Kral, a retired English teacher, was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, and her depression worsened.
“I’m rooted in my Catholic faith, but I think I tend to look at the negative side of life. The cancer diagnosis made it even worse,” she told journalist Michael Pollan in the Netflix documentary How to Change Your Mind, “It’s a difficult mental and physical health condition, her examines the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat depression.
Psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in “magic” mushrooms, is illegal in most countries, but some are beginning to recognize its potential to relieve anxiety and depression in people with terminal cancer. In Canada, for example, patients can get a synthetic version of the drug from a licensed dealer, but the approval process can take a long time.
Despite some friends warning against it, Kral wanted to take the drug and volunteered for a clinical trial.
According to Tina Beattie, a former professor of Catholic studies at the University of Roehampton in the UK, legally purchased drugs are not morally taboo for Catholics.
Dr. Manish Agrawal, a Maryland oncologist and researcher who participated in the clinical trial involving Kral, said in his article How to Change Your Mind that emotional and psychological distress affects cancer patients’ quality of life “probably more” than physical symptoms.
“Depression, if it can be alleviated, why not try?” Kral said.
“I thought waves were cancer”
Kral received a high dose of psilocybin in November 2020 while under the care of a medical professional at the Aquilino Cancer Center in Maryland.
The life-changing journey began an hour after she took the drug, with beautiful music conducted by Kral. He saw visions of his ancestors getting married, as well as his own wedding – a happy moment. But then the perspective changed.
“There were these brutal waves and they really scared me. I thought the waves were cancer. Then I decided: What I need to be taught, the waves,” he said. “The vision continued and there was a bit of darkness. I felt incapacitated. I couldn’t bring life,” she said.
In this case, she had a miscarriage 44 years ago. The king told the Virgin Mary that he would take care of the child.
“It seems to have been hidden in the mind. Now it’s out and free, so I don’t have to worry anymore,” Kral said.
“I’m still depressed. I’m sick with cancer. But the truth is that everything is fine,” he said.
Kral’s experience mirrors that of other cancer patients who have taken psilocybin in several trials and found it helped with anxiety and depression. However, more research is needed to know how well it works and is safe for all patients, Dr. Charles Grob, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, told Insider.
Psilocybin, along with therapy, has also shown promise for non-cancer patients with severe depression. Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychedelic and consciousness studies at Johns Hopkins University, told Insider, “We don’t know if cancer patients with depression benefit as much as non-cancer patients with depression.”
“It is possible that the nature of the cancer may be more susceptible to long-term psilocybin treatment, but this is anecdotal and future studies are needed to clarify this,” he said.
Mystical experiences can make journeys more effective
The million-dollar question in psychedelic science is whether a “trip” or mystical experience, such as the one Kral experienced, is necessary for the benefit of patients.
David Yaden, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, told Insider that in the study, people with depression and anxiety who took psilocybin reported having mystical experiences in research questionnaires after taking high doses. Those who have a strong mystical experience, in turn, find that their symptoms and well-being improve. Again, more research is needed to prove that mystical experiences are associated with these perceived benefits.
Even Kral, the English teacher, could not fully describe his experience, but the change in thinking was evident.
“There’s an openness to nature, to people, to life,” Kral said, adding, “Maybe one more day to live and live it as well as I can.”