Psychedelic therapy for the dying

Everyone is going to die, but most people still fear death. The irony is that fear is sometimes so dominant that one is unable to enjoy life until death occurs. Such fear of death can affect young and old, healthy and sick. Research on psychedelics from the 60's showed promising results with cancer patients, but since it was not common with placebo control group at that time, they have not weighed so heavily in modern pharmacology. After the hippie wave, these drugs were banned and research stopped in practice for 30 years. Dying patients are the group that is easiest to get approval to use experimental treatment and medication, so the first psilocybin studies in modern times dealt with this particular group.

Studies and results

One of the first major studies on psychedelics in modern times was conducted at Johns Hopkins University on a group of patients with life-threatening cancer. Two similar studies were conducted in 2011 and 2014 with 12 participants, so the goal here was to see if the results remained in a larger population (56 participants). All of these studies were double-blind and placebo-controlled and this most recent study has been praised for its quality. All participants had potentially life-threatening cancer diagnoses and marked anxiety and / or depressive symptoms. One group received a high dose of psilocybin, corresponding to 3.5 g of fungus (P. cubensis), and the placebo group received a low dose, corresponding to 0.25 g of fungus. Before the day they received the medicine, they had an average of three preparation meetings. There were two therapists present throughout the process and the room where the treatment took place was a "homely" room with plants, pictures and a sofa where the participants would lie. After the medicine day, the participants had an average of six integration meetings, again with both therapists present.

The results were measured by asking both the participants themselves and other observers such as family, colleagues and friends. 62% reported that the high-dose experience was among the five most meaningful experiences they have had in their lives, where experiences such as the birth of children, death in close relatives, weddings and the like were on the list. 86 % reported a moderate to high increase in quality of life, a figure that only decreased by 3.5 % over six months. When measuring the reduction of symptoms of anxiety and depression, the results were 52-60 % for the high-dose group compared with 12-16 % for the placebo group.

These were very promising results and paved the way for much of the recent research with psilocybin.

More information about psychedelic therapy?