In this video, cinematographer and photographer Eddie Marritz speaks about his battle with cancer and how a dose of psilocybin helped him appreciate how much there is to be grateful for in life.
The video opens with Marritz laughing as he recalls how his doctor called his small-cell carcinoma a “rare bird.”
“I’m sort of chuckling today, but I wasn’t chuckling before,” he says.
Marritz was a participant in a New York University psilocybin cancer anxiety study, in which researchers administered the psychedelic chemical, the main active ingredient in magic mushrooms, in a therapeutic setting to document its effect on cancer patients.
The results were profound. After his cancer diagnosis, Marritz says, he was flooded with an outpouring of support from his friends, but it wasn’t until the psilocybin treatment that he truly felt gratitude. “I don’t like to talk about it because it’s really beyond words,” he says.
The NYU study was one of several that have taken place in recent years to look at the effect of psilocybin on cancer-related anxiety. The results, like those of studies from Johns Hopkins and the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, help build scientific evidence about the usefulness of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics for treating mental disorders.
The studies are breaking new ground after research on psychedelics was discontinued following the cultural upheavals of the 1960s, when the substances were banned by the U.S. government and widely stigmatized in the media.
Dr. Stephen Ross, the NYU study’s principal investigator, points out in the video that of the 40 percent of Americans who will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, about half will have an accompanying psychiatric disorder.
“If untreated it is associated with a bunch of very bad outcomes, including depression, hopelessness, suicidality, even decreased survival rates from the cancer,” Ross says, noting that psilocybin has “made a comeback in science as a research tool to treat various disorders such as distress with terminal cancer, addiction, depression.”
After one dose, research shows, patients typically experience a reduction in anxiety and depression that lasts for weeks or months.
The psychedelic could fill a void that exists in conventional cancer treatments. “Doctors are not trained how to help patients deal with a spiritual crisis or emergency,” says co-principal investigator Anthony Bossis, Ph.D.
During the therapy session, the researchers pass the psilocybin pills to the patients in a decorative chalice to create a sense of ritual. After they take the pills, subjects wear eyeshades and headphones and lie back on a couch while two therapists keep an eye on their blood pressure and remain ready to lend support if needed.
“[Patients] may have experiences of fear, sadness, anger, and in fact most people do have a very emotional experience,” Ross says. “We consider that to be part of the healing process.”
During his session, Marritz says, at first nothing happened after he took the pill. He asked why it was taking so long, and one of the therapists knelt by him and told him “it’s taking exactly as long as it needs to.”
“Right after that,” Marritz says, pausing, searching for words, “I just, took off.”
“It felt like a comedy and tragedy in my face,” he continues. “I may look shattered to you, but there was so much feeling and you’re kind of up there in a very celestial environment.”
He says that while he still might feel anxiety, or even despair from time to time, he is now better equipped to face whatever challenges life throws at him. “And I think I’m better equipped to face the good things,” Marritz says. “I’m grateful to be alive in a way I didn’t know I could be grateful.”
“It’s a kind of gratitude that’s ineffable.”
View the video in full via the player below.
The video is also featured on the 920 Coalition website, an organization that promotes and shares research on psilocybin.