Does your bucket list include one last “trip”? Perhaps it should, doctors say.
Doctors say they have “a good argument for psychedelics in palliative care,” and how tripping on shrooms can offer a “glimmer” of hope and ease fears of dying.
“It could revolutionize care homes, which are in a bit of a parlous state after the last few years,” Dr. David Luke, associate professor of psychology at Greenwich University, said.
Luke studies the psychological effects of psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in “magic” mushrooms, which several studies have shown could help treat mental illnesses associated with the end-of-life experience, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs are known to lead users to “epiphany.”
“It often relates to a sense of their own existence,” Luke explained during the Cheltenham Science Festival in Gloucestershire, England on Tuesday. “They get a glimmer of something which reduces their fear of death, and it’s often that maybe death isn’t the end or something like that.”
Another conference panelist agreed: “Preliminary evidence suggests that psychedelics may be helpful in palliative care,” said Allan Young, professor at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London.
“Psychedelics may help people to work through, understand and re-evaluate previous life experiences, so they reach a state of acceptance and are more prepared for death,” Young explained.
A pair of studies, produced in tandem by researchers at NYU Langone Health and Johns-Hopkins University, described a psilocybin trial involving advanced cancer patients (a total of 80). Both teams found that 80% of participants had gained extended relief from the stresses of death after a “single dose” — 0.3 milligrams per kilogram — for more than six months after their psychedelic voyage.
Those patients reported fewer feelings of despair, and greater satisfaction with life despite their terminal status.
Such soothing effects could help people — cancer patients and otherwise — live even longer, Luke also claimed during Tuesday’s presentation. “People have less depression, anxiety, they have less fear about dying, so they feel better able to die or feel more prepared – they feel more open to their death,” he said.
For now, psilocybin remains federally prohibited, though some states have moved to legalize it for recreational use. But to implement in a clinical setting would require even further infrastructure.
“You would need a specialist team, you need people who are trained in guiding people through psychedelic experiences, but there’s already training out there and I think people who are already working in palliative care who are therapists would be really well suited to that,” said Luke.
“You just need a quiet room with some kind of conducive environment — some mood lighting and maybe a view of nature,” he added.