Magic mushrooms helped older women’s depression in Netflix’s ‘How to Change Your Mind’

  • A woman in her 70s with terminal cancer who ate “magic” mushrooms says it eased her depression.
  • Kathleen Krall also treated a miscarriage she had experienced in her 30s during her trip.
  • Scientists are studying whether “magic” mushrooms can treat depression and other mental illnesses.

A woman in her 70s with terminal cancer said the “magic” mushroom trip helped her alleviate her depression and treat a miscarriage since her 30s.

Kathleen Krall, a retired English teacher, was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, exacerbating her depression.

She told journalist Michael Pollan in a Netflix documentary How To Change Your Mind, which explores the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat severe mental and physical health conditions, including depression.

Psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in “magic” mushrooms, is illegal in most countries, but some are beginning to realize its potential to relieve anxiety and depression for people with terminal cancer. In Canada, for example, such patients can access a synthetic version of the drug from a licensed dealer, but the approval process can be lengthy.

Despite some friends warning her about it, Krall was adamant about wanting the drug, and volunteered for a clinical trial.

According to Tina Petty, a former professor of Catholic studies at the University of Roehampton, UK, legally obtained drugs are not ethically prohibited to Catholics.

Dr. Manish Agrawal, a Maryland-based oncologist and researcher who participated in the clinical trial in which Krall was involved, said in How You Change Your Mind that emotional and psychological distress affects cancer patients’ quality of life “possibly more” than physical symptoms.

“Depression, if it can be alleviated, why not try it?” Krall said.

“I thought the waves were cancerous’

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

The life-changing journey began one hour after she took the drug, and it began with beautiful music, and Krall was the conductor of the orchestra. She saw visions of her ancestors’ marriage, as well as her own wedding – a moment of happiness. But then the vision changed.

She said, “These fierce waves were going on and it frightened me so much. I thought the waves were cancer. Then I decided: Teach me what you need to teach me, the waves.” “The vision went on and there was a lot of blackness,” she said. “I had a feeling that I was incompetent. I couldn’t bring myself to life.”

At this point, she treated a miscarriage that occurred 44 years ago. Krall imagines the Virgin Mary telling her that she will take care of the baby.

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

“I’m still depressed,” she said. “I’m still in pain from cancer. But there’s a basic fact that it’s okay.”

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

Psilocybin, along with treatment, has shown promising results for non-cancer patients with major depression. Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychedelics and consciousness at Johns Hopkins University, told Insider that we don’t know if depressed cancer patients get the same benefits as depressed patients without cancer.

“The nature of distress in cancer may be more amenable to permanent treatment with psilocybin, but this is anecdotal and future research is needed to elicit this,” he said.

Mystical experiences may make journeys more effective

The million-dollar question in psychedelics is whether a “journey” or a mystical experience, such as what Krall may have gone through, is needed for patients to benefit from.

David Yaden, 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 a mystical experience in research questionnaires after taking high doses. Those who had strong mystical experiences were in turn more likely to see their symptoms and improvements in their health. Again, more research is needed to establish that mystical experiences are associated with these perceived benefits.

Even Krall, a retired English teacher, couldn’t fully express her experience, but the shift in mentality was palpable.

“There is an openness to nature, people, and life,” Krall said, adding, “Maybe there is another day to live, and live it as best I can.”

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