SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The positive side effects of psychedelic mushrooms have been illegally enjoyed by Americans for decades, but now two new scientific studies suggest magic mushrooms may be key to helping ease anxiety and depression for cancer patients.

Cancer patients who took psychedelic mushrooms — containing the compound psilocybin — in conjunction with psychotherapy, reported decreased mental anguish months after their mind-altering trip.

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A clinical trial led by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center, as well as one now at Palo Alto University, found “… psilocybin produced immediate, substantial, and sustained improvements in anxiety and depression and led to decreases in cancer-related demoralization and hopelessness, improved spiritual wellbeing, and increased quality of life.”

The authors write in the study, published in the December 2016 issue of Journal of Psychopharmacology, that anxiety and depression are commonly experienced by cancer patients and have been associated with poor psychiatric and medical outcomes.

Psilocybin and psychotherapy, the NYU authors’ say “could become a novel pharmacological-psychosocial treatment modality for cancer-related psychological and existential distress.”

A second study led by researchers at John Hopkins University, also published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology, had similar findings.

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The John Hopkins University researchers cite several studies conducted in the 1960s and 1970s that suggested that compounds, including psilocybin, might be effective in treating distress in cancer patients.

In their study, the John Hopkins University researchers informed neither the patient nor the administrator whether they were getting a very low dose or a high dose of psilocybin.

What they found was that a single, high-dose of psilocybin produced large decreases in depressed mood and anxiety for cancer patients and increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism, as well as decreases in death anxiety.

Six months later, about 80 percent of participants still showed “clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety,” the John Hopkins University research found.

Both studies were principally funded by the non-profit Heffter Research Institute, a Santa Fe-based scientific Institute that helps design, review and fund studies that examine potential medical uses of psilocybin.

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By Hannah Albarazi – Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.