Psychedelics and death are two subjects not often discussed within our society. However, these two have the potential to be extremely correlated, as experts are now suggesting that psychedelics could play a powerful role in the end-of-life process.
While the use of psychedelics during the dying process is a topic in many current conversations, this is not the first time that it’s been examined. Research as far back as the 1960s examined the possibility of using psychedelics to aid in the dying process, specifically in those with terminal cancer. Earlier research focused more heavily on the benefits of LSD, whereas modern research places a heavier emphasis on psilocybin.
As was previously mentioned, death and psychedelics are both topics of a large amount of stigma within American society. Reducing this stigma will allow people to engage in important conversations and educate themselves about these topics.
There are many different factors that can influence someone’s view of both psychedelics and death. Religious views, cultural norms, societal implications, and familial expectations can all play a role in how an individual views the end-of-life, as well as mind-altering compounds.
Engaging in educated, thoughtful discussions is one of the best ways to reduce the stigma about these two topics. Learning about the different psychedelic options that exist is an excellent way to gain some clarity. One of the most important things that will reduce stigma is increased research.
As with many different psychedelic topics, there is a large need for more research to be done in this area. However, there have been some interesting studies done that yielded promising results.
Two notable studies were done by New York University and John Hopkins University. Both studies examined the effects of psilocybin on those with life-threatening illnesses, incorporating a control into the study. Study participants were given psychotherapy to prepare themselves for the experience. Interestingly, both of these studies found that psilocybin was not only massively helpful immediately, but also had long-term positive effects on anxiety and depression.
One review notes that these studies have proven to be an exciting advancement in the field of psychedelics. However, the review authors note that excluding patients with a predisposition towards psychosis is an important part of ensuring both safety and efficacy when using psychedelics.
Many people believe that palliative care is about aiding in the dying process, but that’s not the case. Palliative care allows individuals to maximize their comfort and do things that they may not otherwise be able to do if they participated in other treatment options. In fact, research shows that palliative care increases patient satisfaction and decreases costs.
Psychedelics offer the possibility of much longer-lasting effects than other treatment options do. One trial found that the majority of the participants still have positive effects over four years after the trial ended. The same trial noted that participants had increased spiritual comfort, better quality of life, and less existential questioning.
Psychedelics provide a much more immediate solution than many other options do. Some are prescribed antidepressants to deal with anxiety and depression, but those medications can take weeks for the full effect to be felt.
While psychedelics are showing promising possibilities for palliative care, there are some barriers that remain.
One article surveyed medical providers and found that while they did note existential dread as a common theme within dying patients, they felt that it was out of their control. Psychedelics offer the possibility for medical providers to give more comprehensive care, bettering the physical, psychological, and spiritual lives of their patients.
Another barrier is cost. Some psychedelic treatments are associated with out-of-pocket costs that are inaccessible to many patients. Finding ways to make psychedelics more accessible is necessary so that patients are able to utilize the treatments that will support them throughout the dying process.
For some, being aware that their own death is imminent creates existential despair. This difficulty can complicate the dying process and reduce an individual’s physical and psychological comfort. Distress can complicate death and is not beneficial for the individual’s body.
Some medical practitioners recommend medications to “numb” an individual emotionally if they’re experiencing existential worry. An alternative to this is psychedelics.
Psychedelics provide an unconventional, effective, and humane way to deal with existential worry at the end of life. Instead of sedating an individual, psychedelics allow patients to experience their emotions without the fear that sober consciousness can inflict. Normalizing the use of psychedelics throughout the dying process could have large ramifications for mental health.
One of the former articles cited mentioned the large gap in the knowledge of many medical providers. In order for them to be able to accurately recommend psychedelic treatments, more education needs to be given. Psychedelics provide the potential for medical professionals to increase the support that they provide patients at the end of life.
Death and Psychedelics
Legislature, societal stigmas, and lack of research are three of the biggest factors holding back the implementation of psychedelics into palliative care settings.
If you’re someone who’s dealing with a terminal illness and you’re interested in psychedelic treatments, consider asking your doctor about the possibilities. Connecting with researchers is another excellent way to learn about the options that are out there and if you qualify for them. Exploring all different kinds of treatments is an excellent way to make an informed decision.
The unfortunate reality is that it’s impossible to interview those that have gone completely through the dying process. While this is a gap that will always exist, it is possible for more research to be done.
More research will provide deeper insights into the benefits of mind-altering compounds throughout the end of life. However, research requires willing participants, which is one of the reasons why stigma is such an important topic of conversation when it comes to furthering the use of psychedelics.