The journey of a lifetime
Kerry Pappas was diagnosed with stage three lung cancer in 2013.
She underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation before returning to her normal life. But she was having trouble. "I was gripped with fear," she recounts, "not only with the possibility of death, but also with how to move forward in my life."
A friend told her of a study at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine that looked into using psilocybin (the component found in hallucinogenic "magic" mushrooms) to treat cancer-related symptoms. Soon later, Pappas was in Baltimore, taking psilocybin and being escorted through the experience by a social worker from the Hopkins study team.
Overall, she didn't have as much fun as she had anticipated. "I was thrown into the most desolate, despondent landscape," she recalls. In her altered state, she initially believed she was being shown the truth: that life had no value. However, eventually, a gleaming emerald appeared from the gloom, accompanied by the words "Right here." "At the moment."
"I realized it was me who was the treasure." "I have value and significance," Pappas asserts. "To this day, those words—'right now, right now'—remain my motto."
It took some time for Pappas to grasp what she'd witnessed. She did, however, emerge altered. She's encountered major hurdles since the therapy, including the cancer spreading to her brain. She claims she has been able to deal with setbacks when they occur. "Right now, I reside right here." "I'm not terrified or anxious," she claims. "On a molecular level, the encounter changed my inner outlook." "After all these years, I'm finally living."
Since Pappas's psilocybin experience in 2013, the field of psychedelic drug study has exploded. Two medical research companies exploring psilocybin to treat depression have been granted "breakthrough therapy" classification by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), allowing them to accelerate the development of the medication. Meanwhile, an increasing number of psychologists and their colleagues are investigating psychedelics as possible treatments for other diseases such as addiction and anorexia.
Although the research is still in its early stages, and most study sample sizes are tiny, preliminary findings suggest that psychedelics paired with psychotherapy may result in long-term changes in emotional well-being and mental health.
"Participants can have profoundly important experiences in a single six-hour session, with lasting positive changes years later," says Roland Griffiths, PhD, founding director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. "These encounters have a great significance."