As someone who really enjoys getting involved in thought-provoking topics, I find myself drawn to subject matter with the potential to reshape perspectives and improve lives. One such topic that’s come across my path recently is the use of psychedelics in palliative care. In this post, we’ll explore the somewhat controversial role of psychedelics in enhancing the end-of-life experience for those facing terminal illnesses.
Understanding Palliative Care
Before we go into the role of psychedelics, let's first define palliative care. Palliative care is specialized medical care for those who have a terminal disease. This type of care focuses on alleviating the illness's symptoms and stress. The goal is to improve the quality of life for the patient and his or her family.
Palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work in conjunction with the patient's regular clinicians to provide an extra layer of support. Palliative care prioritizes the patient's needs over the patient's prognosis. It can be used at any age and stage of a serious illness, and it can be combined with curative treatment.
Psychedelics in Palliative Care
Now, let's explore how psychedelics are being considered as a complementary therapy in palliative care:
Alleviating Anxiety and Depression: Terminal illnesses often come with heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Psychedelics have shown promise in providing relief from these emotional burdens. Studies, such as those conducted at Johns Hopkins University, have demonstrated significant reductions in anxiety and depression symptoms after guided psychedelic experiences.
Fostering a Sense of Connectedness: Many individuals facing the end of their lives struggle with feelings of isolation and existential distress. Existential distress has been widely recognized as a significant source of suffering for patients facing life-threatening illness (LTI) and can influence patients’ desire to hasten death or even take their own lives. Psychedelics, often referred to as "entheogens" for their ability to induce spiritual experiences, can facilitate a deep sense of connection with one’s spirituality, nature, or the universe. They thus have the potential to facilitate a profound sense of interconnectedness, providing comfort and solace during this challenging time.
Enhancing Psychological Well-being: Research published has highlighted the potential of psychedelics to enhance psychological well-being, increase acceptance of mortality, and improve the overall quality of life for patients in palliative care. In a recent study of more than 3,000 adults, the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research found that taking these drugs under the right conditions made people less afraid of death, much the way a near-death experience unrelated to drugs may reduce the fear of mortality.
When we witness a loved one on the verge of death or experiencing long-term suffering, our natural instinct is to do everything we can to ameliorate their health and assist them in coming to grips with their position. However, while palliative care has improved in recent decades, doctors and patients in these settings still have few psychopharmacological choices. Yes, medical improvements have improved the management of many of the discomforts associated with death, but the drugs currently available do not sufficiently address the accompanying psychological suffering. Doctors generally utilize medicines such as opioids, sedative-hypnotics, neuroleptics, serotonergic antidepressants, and stimulants. According to research, psychological issues such as depression, existential discomfort, and well-being remain difficult to treat with these drugs. While the use of psychedelics in palliative care may appear unconventional, I feel that researching other techniques to enhancing end-of-life care is vital. Using psychedelics to assist terminal patients overcome their dread of death can, ironically, enable them to live more completely.
Although the role of psychedelics in palliative care is a topic that is still being researched, it is one with numerous encouraging outcomes. I think it’s crucial that we approach this topic with an open mind, acknowledging both the potential benefits and the necessity for tight restrictions to assure safety and efficacy. When used properly, the incorporation of psychedelics into palliative care may provide new paths of comfort and spiritual discovery during an extremely difficult period. I believe that if psychedelics have the potential to safely and effectively reduce the pain of those with terminal conditions, we owe it to these patients to conduct this research.