Episode 4: Tripping

Welcome, psychonauts! Today, we talk about what happens when cancer patients are given magic mushrooms. For accepting death, for treatment of depression of anxiety, and for science. In that order.

In Tripping, student host Vinh Ton talks with Dr. Eric Chan, a psychiatrist, about how mental health care is delivered to people who are homeless or in prison. For show and tell, Eric brings recent evidence that hallucinogens could target serotonin just as well as antidepressants, giving patients with cancer some much-needed peace of mind.


Details & links:

Recorded: May 25, 2017

Released: August 18, 2017

Student Host: Vinh Ton, a first-year student at Stanford University (soon to be second-year)

Guest: Dr. Eric Chan, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco

Show & tell: Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial by Roland Griffiths, Matthew Johnson, Michael Carducci, Annie Umbricht, William Richards, Brian Richards, Mary Cosimano, and Margaret Klinedinst

Thanks to: Stanford Storytelling Project for much guidance (Will Rogers, Jonah Willihnganz, Jake Warga, Jenny March), Thinking Matters for all kinds of support (Tiffany Lieuw, Parna Sengupta, Ellen Woods), the Generation Anthropocene podcast for advice (Michael Osborne and Leslie Chang), and Mark Luskus for feedback on early versions of this episode

Shout-outs: Coverage in the New York Times, including a similar study done around the same time at New York University. The two seem pretty similar, except in musical taste:

“Researchers created seven-hour music playlists, paced to the anticipated rhythms of the drug reaction. N.Y.U. leaned toward New Age and world music — Brian Eno; sitars; didgeridoos. Johns Hopkins favored Western classical.” 

OK, what else. Here’s Michael Pollan again, in the New Yorker. Neuroimaging is being used to see how LSD and other substances alter patterns of brain activity, and these same scientists are optimistic that psilocybin will become a widespread treatment for depression. More on death acceptance. Tests of LSD in the military: Not all good news. Speaking of bad news, here’s more on bad trips.

Fact check: It was Timothy Leary who did the studies of psilocybin and recidivism, but remember how we said some of those studies weren’t as rigorous as modern ones? At the time, he announced that the drug helped, but the results have since been called into question. He may have made his numbers look better by not waiting as long to see if they reoffend as he should have, for a proper comparison. People have looked into this but as far as I could find no one’s tried to replicate Leary’s result.

Theme music: Transmogrify, by Podington Bear

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