Terminal cancer patients in a Canadian treatment group used psilocybin to reduce fear. It helped some people find peace.
January 13, 2024 at 7:00 a.m. ET
But there were times when it was difficult to forget the pain and the reality that my life was coming to an end. “It’s always a heart-wrenching feeling for her,” Meyer, who lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, said in August. He was originally a calm person, but I noticed that his anxiety was rapidly increasing.
But by November, Meyer felt calm most of the time, even though he had a new, aggressive form of liver cancer and his prognosis had been shortened from months to weeks. Her main reason was that a few months ago she took 25 milligrams of the hallucinogen psilocybin. That’s because a Canadian program that could have psychological benefits for people nearing her death was being watched elsewhere.
In mid-August, Meyer and nine other terminally ill cancer patients gathered in two rooms, wrapped themselves in blankets, lay on plush floor mats, covered their eyes with sleeping masks, and played music through headphones. I swallowed psilocybin. capsule.Mind-altering drugs managed by non-profit Vancouver Island Wellness Center roots that thrivetakes Meyer and his friends on a six-hour journey of fantastic images and thoughts. It was hoped that this “trip” would lead to lasting improvements in mood and reduce anxiety about death. It involved Zoom group therapy sessions over several weeks before and after, with an in-person gathering the night before to obtain medical clearance and an opportunity for participants and their spouses to meet in person.
Canadian health care providers will be able to offer the illegal drug starting in 2022, when the country’s national health care system is abolished. Special access program launched For certain patients with serious or life-threatening illnesses. To date, 168 Canadians have been approved to receive the drug under the program. Similar access is not available in the United States. That’s because a terminally ill patient’s right to try experimental treatments does not include hallucinogens. Items prohibited under the Controlled Substances Act. Oregon and colorado Ballot plans passed in states are in the early stages of allowing psilocybin-based psychotherapy, but those administered the drug could face charges under federal law.
clinical trial When evaluating psychedelic drugs for different mental health concerns, there is a tendency to administer psychedelic drugs to patients individually. But Roots to Thrive prefers to do it in groups. “The group process in psychedelic-assisted therapy helps people understand that they are not alone in experiencing difficult emotions, symptoms, and difficult life situations,” said Pam Kriskow, the center’s medical director. “It enables a shared experience that helps people.”
By the time Meyer swallowed the psilocybin capsule, he felt safe in his company. Some, like Christine “Kat” Perley, 53, who has stage 4 melanoma that has spread to her lungs and throat, have become friends. Before meeting in person, at a restaurant where Pearlie, her husband, Cory, and Cheryl gathered, Brian and Kat expressed their hope that their drug experience would be enjoyable and that they would find more peace of mind afterward.
But the day after taking the psychedelic, Mayer couldn’t hide his disappointment as he stretched out on the couch in the resort room Brian and Cheryl had rented for the week. Although he did not have a negative trip, two of the other participants were so overwhelmed by the drug’s strong effects that they spent hours screaming for them to stop. As a result, Meyer’s mind is filled with thoughts of sword fights in the gardens of medieval castles and elaborate dishes of lobster and lamb cooked in huge industrial kitchens. Many times I was pulled away from an interesting image.
His spiritual journey was also interrupted by regular urination, a symptom of prostate cancer, when one of his facilitators, registered nurse Gail Peekeycoot, touched his hand and guided him. He was shocked by the strong spiritual connection he felt. toilet. “It was as if she was me and I was her. We became one,” he marveled.
Psychedelic trips don’t always go the way people expect, and some people may feel dissatisfied in the aftermath, said Barb Ferau, a palliative care physician on Vancouver Island and a medical facilitator in the room. He himself has pancreatic cancer. But psychological healing often occurs regardless of the experience while the drug is working, she said.
That was the case with Meyer. In addition to feeling calmer, he said in November that taking the drug seemed to help him feel more connected to the friends and family who flocked to his and Cheryl’s home after his prognosis worsened. “I have a more sensitive outlook. I feel more love for people,” Brian said at the time. Three weeks later, Brian died in a hospital surrounded by more than a dozen family members. “He seemed calm, peaceful and happy until the end,” Cheryl said.
Should psychedelics be legalized as medicines? The first methylenedioxy methamphetamine (MDMA) to treat post-traumatic stress disorder was submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December. By MAPS Public Interest Incorporated Foundation (now called Lycos Therapeutics) — Those who could benefit most are those with terminal diagnoses, said Anthony Bosis, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University.
Psychedelics don’t change the course of a person’s illness, but they can help make the time they have left more meaningful, Bosis said.He is a co-author of 2016 study of 29 cancer patients A single dose of psilocybin significantly reduced depression and anxiety, “reduced cancer-related depression and hopelessness, improved mental well-being, and increased quality of life,” the study found. It has been reported.
Feeling a connection to something bigger than yourself can be especially important, the study found, just as Meyer experienced with Peaky Coot. “After this experience, people often say, ‘I realized I don’t just have cancer.’ I’m more than just this body. I’m a more patient person.'” This is a real gift,” Bossis said.
How psychedelics can change a person’s perspective is being studied. A study in mice this summer by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that the drug restarts a “critical learning period” in the brain for several months after use. Although the mouse study does not directly apply to humans, the findings suggest that psychedelic drugs may make people particularly receptive to new ideas and ways of living.
Still, research on psilocybin for people at the end of life is in its early stages, and it is not yet known whether the drug will prove harmful for some people. An unpublished study from Roots to Thrive surveyed 20 participants in three previous psilocybin group sessions and found that many felt more positive, peaceful, lighter and less stressed. got it. However, four people felt almost no change.
Kat Parley, who attended the August session with Meyer, had taken psilocybin twice at Roots to Thrive in the past 18 months. While some people experience lasting changes once they take the medication, Perley found that her fear and anxiety returned after six months.
The day after Perley’s August session, reclining in a comfortable hammock chair in their backyard, her husband, Corey, said they were mentally reeling as if they were a cookie with the ends bitten off. He said he started seeing it. “Psychedelics help her Kat find the missing pieces and make her more whole,” Corey reflected. “Psychedelics can help you answer or give yourself permission to ask questions you may not know.”
Kat Parley agreed. “Every time I come out of a psychedelic drug session, I feel like I’ve left behind a weight, a weight I consciously decided not to carry anymore,” she said. These include the negative feelings she felt towards her late mother and the people who chastised her to try cancer “cures” she had read about online. was. “A lot of energy was wasted on a lot of anger, sadness, and guilt. I realized I didn’t have time for that anymore,” she said.
Shannon Dames, founder of Roots to Thrive, says that while many people might benefit from addressing the psychological issues that interfere with their lives, when they are told they have months or years to live. , the urge to confront such demons often becomes stronger. Most of us have the illusion that we have time to change these things, says Dames. “Being in a place where you have no sense of time creates a really powerful calling.”
About a month before his death, Meyer believed that psychedelic drugs had alleviated the discomfort he felt about dying. “I don’t want to say he’s excited, but he’s very interested right now,” he said. He realized that the mushrooms had taken him to an unknown and altered world. He would do the same with death.
In Parley’s case, her fear was that “after death there would be nothing, just emptiness.” During her second psilocybin trip, she was illuminated by intense feelings of love. I watched myself swimming in the bright water. She was comforted by the feeling that this experience might resemble her afterlife.
Since the August session, Pearlie has become increasingly happy to take care of her own needs instead of constantly worrying about others as she used to. “There’s one thing I want to do before I leave this world, and that is to know that I spent the last few years happily. All I can say now is that I really have no regrets,” she said.
Then she took a deep breath and smiled. “If it wasn’t for this psilocybin journey, I don’t know if I would have gotten to that place.”
Research for this article was supported by the Ferris University of California, Berkeley Psychedelic Journalism Fellowship.
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