Magic Mushrooms Helped Elderly Woman’s Depression in Netflix’s ‘How to Change Your Mind’

  • A woman in her 60s with terminal cancer took ‘magic’ mushrooms and says it eased her depression.
  • Kathleen Kral also treated a miscarriage she had in her 30s while on her trip.
  • Scientists are studying whether “magic” mushrooms can treat depression and other mental illnesses.

A woman in her 60s with terminal cancer says a ‘magical’ mushroom trip helped her ease her depression and treat a miscarriage from her 30s.

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

“I’m rooted in my Catholic faith, but I think I tended to look on the negative side of life. The cancer diagnosis made it worse,” she told reporter 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 issues, 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 retailer, but the approval process can be lengthy.

Although some friends warned her against it, Kral was adamant that 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 acquired drugs are not morally off limits to Catholics.

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

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

“I thought the waves were cancerous”

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

The life-changing journey began an hour after taking 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 blissful moment. But then the view changed.

“These fierce waves were happening and they scared me so much. I thought waves were cancer. And then I decided: teach me what you need to teach me, waves,” she said . “The vision continued and there was quite a bit of darkness. I felt like I was inept. That I couldn’t bring forth life,” she said.

At this point, she has dealt with a miscarriage that took place 44 years ago. Kral envisioned the Virgin Mary telling him she would take care of the baby.

“It was 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 still feel the pain of cancer. But there’s an underlying reality that it’s okay,” she said.

Kral’s experience mirrors that of other cancer patients who have taken psilocybin in a handful of trials and found it helps with anxiety and depression. However, more research is needed to find out exactly how well it works and whether it’s safe for all patients, Dr. Charles Grob, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, told Insider.

Psilocybin, alongside therapy, has also shown promise for non-cancer patients with severe depression. Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychedelics and consciousness at Johns Hopkins University, told Insider that we don’t know if cancer patients with depression get the same benefits as non-cancer patients with depression.

“It may be that the nature of cancer-related distress is more responsive to sustained psilocybin treatment, but this is anecdotal and we need future research to find out,” he said.

Mystical experiences could make travel more efficient

A million dollar question in psychedelic science is whether a “trip” or mystical experience, such as what Kral may have had, is necessary 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 studies were more likely to report having a mystical experience on research questionnaires after taking high doses. Those who had strong mystical experiences were in turn more likely to see their symptoms and well-being improve. Again, more research is needed to prove 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 day left to live and live it as best I can.”

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