CONFIRMED SPEAKERS

Gabby Agin-Liebes

Gabby Agin-Liebes

Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for psychiatric and existential distress in patients with life-threatening cancer

Abstract

A recently published randomized controlled trial compared single-dose psilocybin with single-dose niacin in conjunction with psychotherapy in participants with cancer-related psychiatric distress. Results suggested that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy facilitated improvements in psychiatric and existential distress, quality of life, and spiritual well-being up to seven weeks prior to the crossover. At the 6.5-month follow-up, after the crossover, 60–80% of participants continued to meet criteria for clinically significant antidepressant or anxiolytic responses. The present study is a long-term within-subjects follow-up analysis of self-reported symptomatology involving a subset of participants that completed the parent trial. All 16 participants who were still alive were contacted, and 15 participants agreed to participate at an average of 3.2 and 4.5 years following psilocybin administration. Reductions in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, demoralization, and death anxiety were sustained at the first and second follow-ups. Within-group effect sizes were large. At the second (4.5 year) follow-up approximately 60–80% of participants met criteria for clinically significant antidepressant or anxiolytic responses. Participants overwhelmingly (71–100%) attributed positive life changes to the psilocybin-assisted therapy experience and rated it among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives. These findings suggest that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy holds promise in promoting long-term relief from cancer-related psychiatric distress. Limited conclusions, however, can be drawn regarding the efficacy of this therapy due to the crossover design of the parent study. Nonetheless, the present study adds to the emerging literature base suggesting that psilocybin-facilitated therapy may enhance the psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being of patients with life-threatening cancer.

Biography

Gabby is a PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology at Palo Alto University (expected graduation June 2020) currently conducting her pre-doctoral internship at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. Gabby’s clinical training has focused on providing evidence-based treatments for addiction and trauma-based disorders. Gabby’s primary focus of research has examined psychedelic-assisted interventions to treat cancer-related distress, alcohol dependence, demoralization and depression. She served as the senior project manager of a psychedelic research lab at NYU School of Medicine that published findings (2016) of one of the first randomized controlled clinical trials examining psilocybin-assisted therapy to treat psychiatric distress associated with cancer. She received funding to conduct mixed methods analyses for the psilocybin-cancer study, authoring three peer-reviewed publications — including serving as the lead investigator/author on a recently published (2020) long-term follow-up paper that found sustained anxiolytic and antidepressant effects at a 4.5 year follow-up after the study crossover. Gabby’s research findings were featured in Newsweek and CNN. She has also served as a study therapist and qualitative researcher for psilocybin-assisted therapy trials at UCSF and at Yale (currently underway).

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