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Easing end-of-life anxiety with psychedelic drugs

by AirTalk®

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Timothy Leary talks with his wife Rosemary in December 1967 after he was arraigned on various charges concerning the possession and sale of dangerous drugs. Leary taught psychology at Harvard and was an early advocate of LSD experimentation. By 1960 was doing experiments with LSD and other hallucinogens, first on prison inmates and then on himself and his friends. AFP/AFP/Getty Images

In the early 1960’s, mind-altering drugs like psilocybin and LSD got a bad rap, thanks largely to experiments that spun out of control. Psychologists Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert notoriously unleashed their “turn on, tune in” philosophy on a culture that was eager to try the new miracle drug, but ill-prepared on their own to handle its effects. As a result, psychedelics were outlawed by 1970 and research into their potential benefits halted.  But recently, interest in these drugs for clinical use has been revived.

New studies have shown that the use of LSD and other psychotropic drugs greatly reduces the stress, fear, anxiety and pain associated with advanced cancer, PTSD and other conditions.  After just one dose of psilocybin, administered by a doctor under controlled circumstances (which, in a nod to Dr. Leary, can include plush sofas, Persian carpets and sitar music), patients report a sense of euphoria, emotional well-being, peace and optimism that can last a year or more, greatly changing their outlook even in the face of terminal illness. Some doctors and psychologists specializing in palliative care believe that the use of psychedelics can go a long way towards providing what they term a “good death” - one that implies a positive experience, free of end-of-life pain, stress and remorse.

Do psychedelics deserve another look from the medical profession? Would you welcome a mind-bending experience if it would ease the transition to death?


Anthony P. Bossis, Ph.D., Clinical Assistant Professor Department of Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine

Charles Grob, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California Los Angeles  David Geffen School of Medicine

Click here to read research investigating the effects of psilocybin/mystical experience with cancer patients suffering with anxiety and existential distress, co-authored by Charles S. Grob, Anthony P. Bossis and Roland R. Griffiths.

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