“They say you fly when you die…”
The only inevitable thing in life, is death. Many fear it, while others embrace the possibility of moving on to another realm. The truth is, none of us really know what happens after we die. What we do know, is that sometimes those remaining days/weeks/months on earth can be challenging. Luckily we do have some resources available to help provide comfort and dignity during death. As psychedelics gain momentum in the field of therapeutics, particularly for treating depression and trauma, the question of using them to alleviate end-of-life symptoms is coming up with more regularity.
Psychedelics are incredible. The therapeutic potential is staggering and the market is steadily growing. By far, the most popular psychedelic is still THC. For more articles like this one, and for exclusive deals on delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC, THCV, THCP, delta 10, HHC, THC-O and other legal THC products, make sure to subscribe to The Delta 8 Weekly Newsletter, your top-source for all things cannabis-related.
End-of-Life: Physical Care and Spiritual Needs
Every person experiences death in a unique way, and as such, a person nearing the end of their life has many specific needs – typically in the areas of physical comfort, emotional obligations, mental stimulation, spiritual issues, and practical tasks.
Some people pass quickly while others face a more gradual decline, but almost universally, those who have a least a little bit of foresight into their deaths will go through some type of introspective, spiritual experiences.
If you have a loved one nearing departure from this world, your job is to provide comfort, reassurance, warmth, and understanding. Figuring out how exactly to do this is where it gets tricky. As the body diminishes, the spirit awakens… but unfortunately, our current healthcare system only addresses the former. However, imminent death is known to push the consciousness into new and heightened dimensional levels.
Sometimes, the transition is easy, but other times it can be more difficult and the need for treatment options that help our loved ones navigate the emotional and spiritual journey of death are just as important as medications for decreasing their physical symptoms. Sadly, when it comes to dealing with these types of complexities, modern medicine has always fallen short.
What Are Psychedelics?
Psychedelic drugs, also referred to entheogens, are a subset of hallucinogens which contain compounds that can alter perception. The term entheogen come from Greek and can be roughly translated to mean “building the God within”. The high produced by these types of drugs is known as a ‘trip’, and can include various types of visual, auditory, and sensory hallucinations. The intensity of a trip can vary dramatically based on the specific compound and dose consumed. Sometimes, a user will experience no hallucinations at all, but rather a sense of general well-being, spirituality, and euphoria.
If you’ve ever heard someone mention a ‘bad trip’, this means they had some type of negative side effects or maybe even scary hallucinations. Physical symptoms of a bad trip can include but are not limited to: irregular heartbeat, nausea, chills, sweating, and anxiety. Dosing and setting, among other factors, can significantly impact a psychedelic trip, so you want to make sure that you’re doing everything possible to ensure an uplifting and beneficial high.
Psychedelics can be naturally-derived like psilocybin, or manmade like LSD; and they are generally regarded as safe. According to the results of a Global Drug Survey that polled 120,000 regular drug users, magic mushrooms were the safest recreational drug, along with cannabis. Their method at determining user safety was by comparing the drug used to the amount of required emergency room visits. Only 0.2% of the nearly 10,000 mushroom users surveyed had ever required emergency care, compared to the 1.0% of those using harder drugs like ecstasy or cocaine.
Furthermore, new research suggests that certain psychedelic substances can help relieve anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction and numerous other mental health disorders. “The biggest misconception people have about psychedelics is that these are drugs that make you crazy,” says Michael Pollan, author of the new book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. “We now have evidence that that does happen sometimes — but in many more cases, these are drugs that can make you sane.”
Psychedelics and Near-Death Experiences
What’s interesting about psychedelics is that often times, the high can produce effects comparable to a near-death experience (NDE). Both, NDEs and psychedelic trips are very complex and subjective experiences, and many similarities between the two have been observed.
Parallels between these states of mind can include feelings of universal understanding, transcendence of space and time, communicating with angels, dead relatives, and various other entities, and questions that are insightful and pensive in nature (for instance, trying to figure out your purpose in the world).
DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) in particular is known for producing these occurrences, but anecdotal evidence suggests that other psychedelic compounds can cause them too. According to a recent, placebo-controlled study, researchers found “significant relationships between the NDE scores and DMT-induced ego-dissolution and mystical-type experiences, as well as a significant association between NDE scores and baseline trait ‘absorption’ and delusional ideation measured at baseline.”
Simply put, researchers found such substantial overlap between DMT-induced trips and near-death experiences that they believe it warrants further investigation to gauge the true medical potential of this discovery.
Psychedelics in Palliative and End-of-Life Care
For several reasons, the use of psychedelics in end-of-life and palliative care has been a hot topic of discussion for some time now. Terminal patients, or even those who are on a natural decline, often face significant feelings of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, perceived burdensomeness, and overall existential distress.
Although alleviating these symptoms should really be at the core of palliative care, currently, there are no pharmacologic options for helping end-of-life patients who need to find emotional peace. Yes, antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs exist and are prescribed to dying patients on a regular basis; but numerous studies show that these medications have demonstrated absolutely no superiority over placebos.
Enter psychedelics. According to Ross and Reiche et al., “psychedelic-assisted therapy for patients facing life-threatening illness appears to be a safe and potentially highly efficacious intervention for psychological and existential distress associated with such conditions. Contemporary double-blind placebo-controlled trials of psychedelics for depression and anxiety associated with cancer have produced very promising results.”
The two most recent and noteworthy studies on this subject were both completed at well-known, prestigious facilities: John Hopkins University and New York University (NYU). Both also were published simultaneously with nearly a dozen editorials from experts in palliative medicine, psychiatry, and international drug policy.
In the John Hopkins study, a crossover design was used to monitor 51 patients who received both an experimental high dose of psilocybin (22 mg or 30 mg/70 kg) and a standard low dose (1 mg or 3 mg/70 kg) which served as an active placebo control. At NYU, a randomized trial was used to study 29 patients receiving either psilocybin or the active placebo niacin.
During both trials, participants received pre and post treatment therapy sessions to determine their current state of mind and be able to make a reasonable assessment after administration of psychedelics. Also, both treatment groups included subjects with a wide range of both physical and psychiatric disorders including life-threatening cancers, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.
And most importantly, both studies looked very carefully at the longevity of the results post-treatment, as well as safety profile of the prescribed active treatment. Across the board, there were both acute, immediate benefits as well as long lasting ones that were observed more than 6 months after use of psychedelics. Safety profiles were good in both trials and no serious adverse medical or psychological outcomes were reported.
Overall, the results were very promising. Participants claimed to experience reconciliation with death, emotional detachment from their diseases or ailments, reconnection with life, reclaimed presence and sense of self, and increased confidence.
“Those findings are consistent with published work about the safety and risk profile of psychedelics, which can be appropriately mitigated both with careful screening of subjects who have an underlying risk of psychosis and with appropriate support by the psychotherapy team,” says Daniel Rosenbaum from the Department of Psychiatry at University of Toronto. “These landmark studies from Johns Hopkins University and NYU also suggested a central role of the psilocybin-occasioned mystical-type experience, which correlated significantly with therapeutic outcomes based on ratings using validated scales.”
Mystical-type experiences can be characterized by many different qualities including but not limited to feelings of unity, a sense of experiencing “ultimate reality”, sacredness, positivity, and connectedness. In short, using psychedelics can make the experience of dying a more positive and spiritual one, rather than being scary, confusing, and depressing.
For many obvious reasons, death is a very sensitive subject. Of course, pain, physical ailments, and practical matters need to be addressed, but when someone is nearing the end of their life, there is so much more going on beneath the surface. What needs to be discussed more is the need for treatment options that deal with the nonsecular symptoms of moving on to another realm, and psychedelics might be one of the most promising ways to accomplish this task.
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