HomeNewsQueensland trial: Psilocybin-assisted therapy for grieving cancer carers

Queensland trial: Psilocybin-assisted therapy for grieving cancer carers

Researchers from Queensland’s QIMR Berghofer are pioneering a revolutionary trial, integrating the usage of a psychedelic compound, psilocybin, with psychotherapy to aid individuals grappling with protracted, profound grief following the loss of a loved one to cancer.

This innovative pilot study, named PARTING (Psilocybin-Assisted suppoRtive psychoTherapy IN the treatment of complicated Grief), is among the world’s foremost to leverage psilocybin-facilitated psychotherapy to specifically target sustained grief.

Psilocybin, a psychedelic compound typically found in around 200 species of mushrooms, as well as MDMA, has recently been legalised for their use in therapeutic settings.

This trailblazing trial in Queensland is the first medical research venture in the region to involve psilocybin.

The trial seeks to recruit up to 15 participants, to evaluate the acceptability and safety of this psilocybin treatment approach for individuals dealing with protracted grief, particularly those who have lost someone to cancer.

Associate Professor Vanessa Beesley, the principal investigator, mentioned the project’s potential to offer an alternative pathway for individuals affected by this crippling mental health condition, which persists when symptoms of grief remain unmitigated even after more than a year.

Associate Professor Beesley highlighted the debilitating nature of prolonged grief: “It can cause intense, overwhelming suffering that impairs a person’s functioning in their daily life, work, and relationships, effectively trapping them in the initial phase of bereavement.”

She is optimistic that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy might offer some relief to these individuals suffering from grief as a result of cancer, helping them come to terms with their loss.

Throughout the 15-week trial, participants will engage in a structured programme encompassing seven psychotherapy sessions and a single psilocybin dosing session under expert supervision.

The pivotal dosing session, set to last roughly eight hours, will take place in a private room equipped with a bed.

Participants will rest, put on an eye mask, and listen to carefully curated music, accompanied by a nurse and psychologist throughout.

The psychotherapy sessions post-dosing will be geared towards assisting participants in assimilating their psilocybin experience, addressing unresolved grief, and identifying potential life changes in response to the experience.

Dr Stephen Parker, a trial psychiatrist, QIMR Berghofer Visiting Scientist and Director of Research at Metro North Mental Health, expressed enthusiasm about the study.

He said: “This trial is momentous. The potential of offering something new and different to people who don’t necessarily respond to conventional mental health treatments is incredibly important. The primary objective is to examine whether this therapy is acceptable, safe, and possibly advantageous to individuals in some way. This knowledge will inform the planning of larger studies with sufficient sample sizes to test the effectiveness of this intervention for protracted grief.”

The PARTING psilocybin trial is keenly focused on cancer carers, given that up to 30% of this population are affected by protracted grief compared to roughly 10% of the general population.

The psilocybin trial is open to individuals who have lost someone to cancer over 12 months ago and are experiencing overwhelming symptoms of grief.

All participants will undergo rigorous screening to ascertain medical and psychiatric eligibility. For more details, you can visit the trial’s website: https://www.qimrberghofer.edu.au/study/parting-trial/.


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