Magic Mushrooms Helped An Elderly Woman’s Depression On Netflix’s ‘How To Change Your Mind’

  • A 70-year-old woman with terminal cancer took “magic” mushrooms and says it eased her depression.
  • Kathleen Kral also processed a miscarriage she had in her thirties during her trip.
  • Scientists are studying whether “magic” mushrooms can treat depression and other mental illnesses.

A seventy-year-old woman with terminal cancer said a “magic” mushroom trip helped ease her depression and process a miscarriage in her thirties.

Kathleen Kral, a retired English teacher, was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, which made her depression worse.

“I’m grounded in my Catholic faith, but I think I tended to look on the downside of life. The cancer diagnosis made it a lot worse,” she told journalist Michael Pollan in the Netflix documentary “How to Change Your Mind,” which explores the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat serious mental and physical health conditions, including 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, these patients can access a synthetic version of the drug from an authorized distributor, but the process to obtain approval can be lengthy.

Despite some friends warning her not to, Kral insisted she 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, UK, legally purchased drugs are not morally forbidden for Catholics.

Dr. Manish Agrawal, a Maryland oncologist and researcher involved in the clinical trial Kral was involved in, said in “How to Change Your Mind” that emotional and psychological distress affect cancer patients’ quality of life “probably more” than physical symptoms. .

“Depression, if it could be relieved, why not try it?” Kral said.

‘I thought the waves were cancer’

Kral took a high dose of psilocybin while being supervised by a medical professional at the Aquilino Cancer Center in Maryland in November 2020.

The journey that changed her life began an hour after she took the drug and began with beautiful music, with Kral as the conductor. She saw visions of her ancestors getting married, as well as her own wedding, a moment of happiness. But then her vision changed.

“These ferocious waves were happening and they scared the hell out of me. I thought the waves were cancer. And then I decided: Teach me what you need to teach me, waves,” he said. “The vision continued and there was quite a bit of darkness. She had a feeling that she was inept. That she couldn’t generate life,” she said.

At that time, she was processing a spontaneous abortion that she had 44 years ago. Kral imagined the Virgin Mary telling him that she would take care of the baby.

“It’s been hidden in the mind, I guess. Now it’s out and it’s free, so I don’t have to worry anymore,” Kral said.

“I still fall into depression. I’m still in pain from the cancer. But there’s an underlying reality that it’s okay,” she said.

Kral’s experience mirrors that of other people with cancer who have taken psilocybin in a handful of trials and found it helped with anxiety and depression. However, more research is needed to know exactly how well it works and if it’s safe for all patients, Dr. Charles Grob, a 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 psychedelics and mindfulness at Johns Hopkins University, told Insider that we don’t know if cancer patients with depression reap the same benefits as depressed patients who don’t have cancer.

“It may be that the nature of distress in cancer is more amenable to long-term psilocybin treatment, but that’s anecdotal and we need future research to figure that out,” he said.

Mystical experiences could make travel more effective

A million-dollar question in psychedelic science is whether a “trip” or mystical experience, such as Kral may have experienced, is needed for patients to benefit.

David Yaden, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, told Insider that people with depression and anxiety who took psilocybin in the studies were more likely to report having a mystical experience in research questionnaires after take high doses. Those with strong mystical experiences, in turn, were more likely to see their symptoms and well-being improve. Again, more research is needed to show that mystical experiences correlate with these perceived benefits.

Even Kral, a retired English teacher, couldn’t fully articulate her experience, but a change in mindset was clear.

“There is an openness, to nature, to people and to life,” Kral said, adding: “Maybe there is one more day to live, and live it the best you can.”

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