How psilocybin might help dying patients to live

Published Dec 13, 2020 12:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Yarygin

It might be an uncomfortable topic, but it's something that all of us will have to face at some point, as the end of life care is required for everyone outside of the small fraction of individuals who meet a sudden and practically instant demise. As we age, our health slowly deteriorates. Age-related conditions such as arthritis, chronic pain, and cancer become more prevalent, making a safe and effective treatment treat these problems a priority. Still, those who are nearing the end of their lives often need more help than what our current medical system can offer.

The right to high-quality end of life care

The majority of people fear death, but those who suffer from difficult to treat levels of pain, anxiety, depression during this time have very few options to chose from. A patient's symptoms in this physical state can be challenging to treat with modern medicines, mainly powerful painkillers and antidepressants. All medications will eventually, in high doses, sedate the person to the point where they are no longer themselves, and that is if they are lucky enough to be aware at all.

Those medications are highly addictive and challenging to dose in a meaningful way to ensure the patient's best comfort. In many cases, they are ineffective and do not provide a reasonable level of relief of symptoms. It is essential to recognize that someone who requires end-of-life care might not necessarily be on their deathbed. They might live for many weeks or even months with medical intervention aid, and most of them want to spend this time as widely as possible.

It's hard to get out and do what you love when you're so sedated or undertreated both physically and mentally that you simply cannot enjoy them. Modern medicine only offers so much for relief before it takes you past the point of that being a possibility. For this reason, so many experts are now looking towards psilocybin therapy as a potential solution that could help improve the quality of life of those who require end-of-life care.

The research

You might be wondering how the magic mushrooms from your highschool days could assist in such a situation, especially if you had some hard trips that took you to places that made you less comfortable rather than more so. Still, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that psilocybin and psychedelics, in general, can help to ease this transition towards a more peaceful and natural direction that leaves the individual able to enjoy as much of the time that they have left as possible.

Pain – According to a 2016 review, researchers discovered that psilocybin could be an effective tool in treating cluster headaches, migraines, and other types of chronic pain.


Depression – This research was conducted with participants from all walks of life, so they weren't necessarily dying, but they were suffering from treatment-resistant depression. Something that almost all of the participants were able to better manage with the assistance of psilocybin.

Anxiety/Fear – This study looked at advanced cancer patients and psilocybins ability to soothe the anxiety they experienced surrounding death. The most amazing part about this particular research is that most only needed to use psilocybin a handful of times before achieving a better state of mind, an effect that seems to linger far beyond the length of time that it takes for psilocybin to work through the body.

It's already happening

We've seen mountains of evidence to suggest that psilocybin therapy is more than worth looking into, but it wasn't until recently that some regions began to embrace that narrative. In August of 2020, Health Canada approved the use of psilocybin for four terminally ill patients in a precedent-setting move that has sparked the interest of millions across the globe.

The fight for a better quality of life

During this fragile time, the last thing that anyone should have to worry about is fighting for permission to use the medicine that might benefit them the most. Everyone deserves to live a good quality of life, and in many cases, psilocybin therapy might be the solution, but it still isn't legal in most places. This is why advocates call on governments everywhere to streamline the process and improve access. Either, by legalizing or decriminalizing psilocybin so that patients can get the medicine they need without having to worry about the legal repercussions of achieving relief.

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