Psychedelics in ancient Greece

— Death and rebirth during a renowned religious ceremony


Going back as far as 3,500 years ago in ancient Greece, followers of a cult to the goddess Demeter participated in a secretive and profound religious ceremony during which they consumed a hallucinogenic drink. The rituals were meant to reenact the story of the goddess’ loss of her daughter to the god of the underworld, and their subsequent reunion. 

Symbolizing death and rebirth, the ceremony, called the Eleusinian Mysteries, was meant to elicit feelings of awe, joy, and spiritual enlightenment, and to give followers a deeper understanding of life and death. Amplified by the consumption of a psychedelic potion, the ritual is thought to have brought on a mystical out-of-body experience, similar to how many people today describe a psilocybin or LSD trip. Psychedelics are having a resurgence today, and research shows the many benefits of the substances, including, simply, leading a fuller life and feeling more connected to the world. The Mysteries were an essential rite of passage to many ancient Greeks, and their importance is hard to understate. These ancient perceptions of psychedelics and the Mysteries can help us understand the power of these substances and the benefits they offer today.

What were the Eleusinian Mysteries?

Eleusis is a town just northwest of Athens, Greece, an agricultural society out in the countryside, and a setting ripe for a cult to Demeter, the goddess of the harvest and the bringer of a bountiful crop. More importantly, it’s a place where wheat or barley likely grew, which are the probable sources of the psychedelic substance in the kykeon, the psychedelic drink consumed during the Mysteries.

Meaning “to stir, or mix” in Greek, the kykeon was thought to have contained an ergot fungus from the barley plant, a substance similar in structure to today’s LSD. There is some debate as to whether the kykeon was psychedelic or not, but famed chemist Albert Hofmann, most known for discovering LSD, makes a strong case for the ancient Greeks having access to this psychedelic fungus.

The origin of the Eleusinian (usually pronounced el-oo-SIN-i-an) Mysteries is somewhat hazy, but it stretches back to at least 1500 BCE, if not before. People from all walks of life took part: rich, poor, men, women, slaves, foreigners; as long as you could speak Greek, you could participate. Even some Roman emperors participated.

For six months before the ceremony, participants learned rites and rituals for the ceremony—called the “lesser Mysteries”—and then in the fall, it began: Participants walked in a procession from Athens to the temple of Demeter at Eleusis, spent nine days there, and then walked in a procession back to Athens, renewed by the experience.

The treks to and from the temple likely symbolize Persephone’s descent to the underworld, and then her ascent back to the land of the living to be with her mother (more below). At the temple, not much is known—hence, why it was called the “Mysteries”—because speaking of the rituals was punishable by death. There is some evidence of animal sacrifice, and the psychedelic kykeon was consumed during the time at the temple. 

Persephone is a fascinating figure in Greek mythology, straddling the line between life and death: She is both daughter of the harvest and queen of the underworld. Every year, she dies and is reborn—in revering her, the ancient Greeks sought to find out what secrets she held of life and death.

In polytheist ancient Greece, Demeter was the goddess of the harvest, responsible for a bountiful crop, which fed humankind, whom the gods created in their image. She had a beautiful daughter named Persephone (usually pronounced per-SEH-fuh-nee), who caught the eye of Hades, god of the underworld. One day, Hades abducted Persephone, taking her to the underworld to be his wife. While there, she ate the seeds of a pomegranate, imprisoning her there, according to divine law.

Demeter was inconsolable at the loss of her daughter and so the crops withered and died, and humankind began to starve. The goddess searched for her daughter for nine days and ended up in the town of Eleusis, where the town took her in. Eventually, she commanded them to build her a temple, where the Mysteries eventually took place.

The other gods were distraught at the humans dying, so Zeus, king of the gods, went down to the underworld and struck a deal with Hades: For half of the year, Persephone would reside in the land of the living with her mother, Demeter, and for the other half, she would live in the underworld with Hades as his wife.

When Persephone came back to the land of the living, Demeter was overjoyed and the crops flourished; but six months later, Persephone had to return to the underworld, Demeter became sad, and the crops began to wither and die again. The cycle repeated year after year.

Persephone’s story explains the changing of the seasons in ancient Greece: fall begins with her descent, Demeter’s sorrow, and the crops dying, and spring occurs with her ascent back to the land of the living, Demeter’s joy at their reunion, and the crops flourishing.

What purpose did the Mysteries serve?

There’s no doubt that the Mysteries were a rite of passage to many in ancient Greece. The intense, six-month preparation for the ceremony and the diversity of people who participated in them point to the importance of the experience across ancient Greek culture. The ceremonies also existed for more than 2,000 years, and it took the spread of Christianity to wipe out the practice.

The spiritual aspects of the ceremony relating to the goddesses Demeter and Persephone are obvious, but when the practice of drinking the psychedelic kykeon is added to the experience, the Mysteries gain a deeper, more profound meaning.

The way that ancient Greeks described these ritualistic experiences are similar to modern descriptions of tripping on psychedelics. Even the benefits that Greeks received from participating in the Mysteries mirror the benefits of psychedelics consumed in scientific studies today, including opening the doors to a more fulfilling and satisfying life, better coping with loss and death, and gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world, among others.

We have the advantage of scientific study today, and current research shows the benefits of “mystical experiences” brought on by psilocybin, as well as “experiencing God” or an “ultimate reality,”  resulting in greater life satisfaction, purpose, and meaning, even decades after the initial psychedelic experience.

Some descriptions of what participants underwent during the Mysteries are similar to the experience of ego death today, or the loss of self, often experienced during a psychedelic trip. Disassociation, hallucinations, fear, joy, a mix of other emotions, and a deeper understanding of the world are all experiences described during both the Mysteries and a psychedelic trip. The dissolution of the ego can lead to the feeling of oneness with the world, helping to break unhealthy thoughts and behavior patterns.

Participants were also said to have returned from the ceremony full of joy and happiness, with the fear of death diminished. Philosopher Plato reportedly participated, and said that the Mysteries were a purifying experience, and those who participated “shall dwell with the gods.” Ancient texts talk of the intense sensory experience of the Mysteries, speaking of a “marvelous light” and a “huge fire,” perhaps similar to hallucinations seen while on psilocybin or LSD.

Today, psilocybin and other psychedelics are also being used to treat end-of-life anxiety and help people with terminal illnesses cope with death. In another study, 67% of participants rated a psilocybin experience to be the single most meaningful experience of their life, or in the top five most meaningful experiences.

The Greeks knew the power of the Mysteries and the kykeon, and closely guarded their secrets. Psychedelics, and the story of Persephone’s continual death and rebirth, can help us all come to terms with death and appreciate life for what it is.

Complete Article HERE!

What We Know About Treating Extreme Grief With Psychedelics

— In his new memoir, Prince Harry talks about taking psychedelics to deal with the ongoing pain over the death of his mother. Here’s what we know and don’t know about their effectiveness.

By Dana G. Smith

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been remarkably transparent about their psychological struggles. In a documentary about mental health that he filmed with Oprah Winfrey in 2021, Harry included a video of himself undergoing E.M.D.R., or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, which helps people with post-traumatic stress disorder cope with triggering memories. Ms. Markle has spoken candidly about experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts.

Harry’s new memoir, “Spare,” is no different, including raw and sometimes shocking details about his battles with mental illness. At the center of many of these experiences is his grief and trauma over the death in 1997 of his mother, Princess Diana, when he was 12 years old.

In the book, he described trying both traditional and unconventional ways to cope with his pain and that using psychedelics was particularly helpful. After one therapist suggested that he suffered from PTSD, Harry started to use mushrooms and ayahuasca “therapeutically, medicinally.” (He had previously experimented with psychedelics recreationally.) “They didn’t simply allow me to escape reality for a while, they let me redefine reality,” he wrote.

Psychedelic therapy has experienced a groundswell of enthusiasm over the past decade as research mounts showing the mind-altering drugs can be useful for treating depression and other mental health disorders. (The therapy is still illegal in most places and is primarily done in underground sessions, abroad or through clinical trials.) However, there is scant evidence about whether psilocybin — the psychoactive ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms — and ayahuasca might be helpful for processing grief and trauma specifically.

Dr. Joshua Woolley, director of the Translational Psychedelic Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco, is optimistic about the drugs’ potential. “Can psychedelics help with the experience of grief? I would say probably yes,” he said.

But other experts are less bullish on the idea of using them for trauma. “The actual evidence is really lacking,” said Dr. Shaili Jain, a PTSD specialist at Stanford University and author of “The Unspeakable Mind.” “It’s very early, and we still don’t know the long-term side effects. We are not there yet.”

Grief Versus Prolonged Grief

Grief is not a mental illness; it is a normal human experience that comes after the loss of a loved one. Sadness, anger and disbelief that the person is dead — something that Harry described in his book — are all typical responses to the profound pain of death and can last for months or years. However, if the grief has not improved at all after a year and is affecting a person’s ability to function, a diagnosis of prolonged grief, sometimes called complicated grief, might be warranted.

“What we see with prolonged grief is that the grief becomes very entrenched, that things look the same for this person today as they did the day after” the death, said Mary-Frances O’Connor, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Arizona and author of “The Grieving Brain.” “For a person who’s adapting more typically, a year after a loss, they’re still going to have sadness. They’re still going to miss the person who’s gone. But you can see this trajectory of change where they have started to restore a life that feels meaningful to them.”

People with prolonged grief may feel that life has lost its meaning or that a part of themselves has also died; they might have intense emotional pain or feel complete psychological numbness. Harry does not say in his book whether he was ever diagnosed with prolonged grief, but he does describe some of these emotions, and symptoms of PTSD and prolonged grief often overlap. About 10 percent of people mourning a loved one will develop prolonged grief, and the risk is higher if the death happened suddenly or traumatically.

Treatment for prolonged grief often involves cognitive behavioral therapy to help people start to move on and engage in meaningful activities again while they continue to cope with the grief. “It’s not about taking grief away,” Dr. O’Connor said. “It’s about learning how to live with the fact that you are a person who has waves of grief now.”

Using Psychedelics for Grief

Scientists think that psychedelics work in two ways: through their chemical effects on the brain and the subjective experiences a person has while on the drugs. For many people, psychedelics act like “a very intense, fast psychotherapy,” Dr. Woolley said.

Psychedelics “have this potential to induce these transpersonal states of consciousness where people might feel like they are connected” to the deceased relative or friend, added Greg Fonzo, co-director of the Center for Psychedelic Research and Therapy at Dell Medical School, University of Texas at Austin. “That might allow people to move past some of the stuckness that occurs when they’re in this phase of grief.”

In the brain, scientists think that psychedelics induce a “plastic state,” helping to rapidly form new connections between cells. Those new connections may be behind the insights and reprocessing that people can experience when they use the drugs in a therapeutic setting.

There are very few published studies focusing on psychedelics’ effect on people experiencing prolonged grief. In one of the few relevant trials, Dr. Woolley looked at whether psilocybin, combined with group therapy, could help older, long-term AIDS survivors process their depression and survivor’s guilt surrounding their diagnosis, as well as the loss of friends and family to AIDS. The 2020 study, which included just 18 men, assessed the participants’ levels of demoralization — a therapeutic term for an existential sense of hopelessness and loss of meaning in life. Most of the participants had experienced profound grief and trauma because of the AIDS epidemic; on average, the participants had lost 17 loved ones to the disease.

After one psychedelic therapy session, nearly 90 percent of the men experienced a reduction in demoralization, and many saw a decrease in symptoms of PTSD and complicated grief. In a follow-up paper describing the men’s subjective experiences, the researchers wrote that psilocybin was “a catalyst for reconstructing their identities from rigidly centered on their past traumas to more flexible and growth-oriented life narratives.”

“The people in our study often talked about feeling stuck and detached from people around them and not able to move forward,” Dr. Woolley said. The psilocybin “did seem to help them move forward, to become unstuck and start being more engaged in life.”

Another study published in 2020 by researchers in Spain found that 39 bereaved adults who took part in ayahuasca ceremonies at a retreat center in Peru reported a decrease in the severity of their grief, and those benefits lasted for at least a year. The researchers wrote that people using ayahuasca to process their grief “described emotional confrontations with the reality of the death, the reviewing of biographical memories, and a re-encounter with the deceased.”

While these results are promising, both studies were small and neither included a control arm to compare the effects of the psychedelics against a placebo or another medication. The majority of participants in the ayahuasca study also reported that they expected to benefit from the experience, which may have had an impact on the results.

There is stronger evidence that psilocybin can be useful in treating depression, including in trials comparing the drugs’ efficacy to standard antidepressant medications. Similarly, M.D.M.A, which is sometimes classified as a psychedelic, has been shown to be effective at treating PTSD. Some researchers think that because prolonged grief has many similarities with depression and PTSD, psychedelics could be useful for treating it too.

Dr. O’Connor said that given how scientists think psychedelics work in the brain to treat depression, it’s conceivable that the drugs could also be helpful for people with prolonged grief. However, she cautioned against using the drugs to cope with grief that had not been diagnosed as prolonged or complicated.

“I would not say that it is appropriate to intervene with something as mind-altering, as dramatic, as psychedelic therapy if a person is, in fact, healing in the way that we would expect them to,” Dr. O’Connor said. “Meaning, I would worry that you could do more harm than good and that it just may not be necessary.”

The experts also emphasized that experimenting with the drugs recreationally is not the same as using them in a controlled therapeutic environment. After trying psychedelics in both settings, Prince Harry echoed this sentiment. In an interview with 60 Minutes, he said that he “would never recommend people to do this recreationally,” but that in the right setting the drugs worked “as a medicine” to help him process his grief and trauma.

Complete Article HERE!

Psychedelics for End-of-Life Patients

— What the Research Says

Psychedelics drugs may help dying patients face death. However, practitioners and researchers advise caution. End-of-life is a unique time with a distinct set of risks requiring specialized care. Using psychedelics for patients facing death has yet to be thoroughly tested.


  • Psychedelic drugs may help end-of-life patients by opening floodgates of new brain connections, reducing anxiety and feelings of isolation.
  • Research suggests side effects and risks of psychedelics for therapy are low in medically stable subjects.
  • End of life patients, however, face unique circumstance and are not medically stable.
  • Hope surrounds the promise of psychedelic-assisted therapy, but more research with terminally ill patients is needed.
  • In the meantime, there are other ways end-of-life patients can find connection, peace, and meaning.

Using psychedelic drugs (psilocybin, DMT/Ayahuasca, ketamine, MDMA, and LSD) for mental health treatment is a hot topic in current research.

America’s mental health crisis has not abetted, showing a need for innovative treatment. Evidence and confidence are growing around psychedelic use paired with talk therapy.

Mental anguish is common among people with terminal illnesses. As therapy with psychedelics continues to demonstrate emotional healing, more practitioners are eager to use the tool for end-of-life patients.

A powerful therapeutic tool

Psychedelic drugs, also known as magic mushrooms and hallucinogens, affect mood, energy levels, cognition, and perception. For many people, they stimulate profound spiritual experiences, dissolving the feeling of disconnection from self, the world, the universe, and a higher power.

People around the world have used psychedelics for centuries as a cultural and spiritual practice. Today psychedelics in both plant-based and synthetic forms are used recreationally and in scientific studies.

Many therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists cite dramatic improvements in conditions like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, lasting for weeks to months.

Science isn’t sure how psychedelics work, but they briefly quiet some parts of the brain and open others, causing a floodgate of new connections. This floodgate releases people from entrenched thought patterns and builds new neurological connections, something known as neuroplasticity.

As a result, many people change their minds and their lives.

These life-changing revelations can arise from disturbing psychedelic trips. Still, many who endure a gut-wrenching hallucinogenic journey say it was one of the top five most important events in their lives – worth the anguish for the rich healing.

Research suggests the best outcomes – long-lasting and life-changing – happen with intense therapy before and after taking a psychedelic drug.

Perhaps the most powerful outcome of using psychedelics for therapy is an increased sense of belonging. Connectedness is a deep, human need regardless of race, ethnicity, and culture. Feeling disconnected causes internal turmoil that can lead to chronic health problems.

Psychedelics for end-of-life care

In the last weeks and months of their lives, people face an intense rollercoaster of emotions, including fear, anxiety, and sadness.

Research has shown that psychedelic therapy can reduce death anxiety and increase a sense of connection and meaning for end-of-life (EOL) patients.

An academic book published in 2022 called Disruptive Psychopharmacology discusses the current science of psychedelic use for therapy and its safety and implementation. Psychiatrists and neuroscientists from John Hopkins and the University of California, San Francisco, collaborated on an end-of-life and palliative care chapter. They reviewed the research on psychedelics for patients facing the last stage of a terminal illness, often cancer.

As the authors noted, research with psychedelics for terminally ill patients started in the 1960s. Since then, research with dying patients continues to be promising – although narrow in scope – for improving depression, fear of death, discouragement, and connectedness.

Relief from fear and isolation are two serious emotional challenges for EOL patients. They seek peace and connection to their loved ones. Psychedelics coupled with therapy could achieve more comfort.

The risks of psychedelics for EOL

However, the psychology community advises caution in using psychedelics for end-of-life patients.

According to Dr. David B. Yaden and his team of researchers who wrote the EOL chapter in Disruptive Psychopharmacology, most researchers have studied psychedelic use with medically stable patients, even if they have a mental illness.

EOL patients are not medically stable and can be highly stressed. Psychedelics may worsen symptoms like insomnia, confusion, delirium, shortness of breath, and diarrhea.

They could also cause patients to question long-held spiritual beliefs, possibly adding more stress to the patient and loved ones.

The authors also said we know too little about whether psychedelics interact safely with medications commonly given to EOL patients.

Furthermore, there are no dosing and treatment protocols, certification processes, or professional organizations to oversee the safe use of psychedelic therapy.

Even worse, there are too many reports of sexual abuse by psychedelic-assisted therapists. Thorough training and vetting of therapists are needed because assisting psychedelic trips is very specialized and challenging for therapists.

In a 2022 Medium article, Dr. Rosalind Watts, a leading researcher on the therapeutic use of psychedelics, wrote that real healing is possible when psychedelics are “interwoven into very intentional therapy…The drug was a catalyst to the therapeutic process, not the therapeutic process itself.” She worries we focus on the drug and not the expertise of therapists.

Palliative care specialists say there are many natural wonders – spiritual and physical – in the dying process. They worry that psychedelics may negatively interrupt a naturally beautiful process that, by itself, can create positive transformation.

Obtaining psychedelics for EOL therapy

Psychedelics are only legally available for research studies, but in the coming years, that will change.

Oregon and Colorado legalized psychedelics for therapeutic use in the United States, while several other states have decriminalized them. Once a drug is legalized or authorized by the FDA, however, implementing their use can still take a few – sometimes several – years.

Other ways to open your mind

Music triggers the brain’s pleasure center and a broad, highly diverse network of brain neurons.

Studies suggest spirituality – like psychedelics – hushes the self-focused parts of the brain. This effect happens in the deepest states of prayer and worship, causing “me” to meld seamlessly into connectedness with others, the universe, and a higher power.

Various forms of meditation also open neurological pathways in transforming ways.

Many studies show that healthy relationships and participation in a diverse community reduce stress and improve a sense of belonging.

If you or a loved one face the end of life, it’s essential to talk with a spiritual advisor or a palliative care specialist who can help you find what works for you to feel connected and unafraid.

Complete Article HERE!

How Psychedelics Can Transform End-of-Life Care

By Shoshana Ungerleider and Barbara Hansen

If you’re on TikTok or Instagram, you may have encountered one of nurse Julie McFadden’s viral videos about all things death and dying. Hospice Nurse Julie, as she’s known, shares just how beautiful and difficult dying can be, and has a thing or two to say about how we can make things better for the many people who suffer unnecessarily at the end of life.

“Sometimes no matter what we do, it’s not enough. Despite how hard we try to control symptoms for patients so they can have a good quality of life toward the end of their lives, they and their families still suffer,” McFadden said when we reached out to her recently. “We don’t always know why the medicine we give patients for pain, anxiety, or agitation isn’t working. If there could be a better way to treat people where they can still enjoy their loved ones at the end of life, then why not use it?” McFadden asks.

One of us is a nurse and one of us is a physician, so we know the terror and pain those at end of life can face. We’ve come to believe that the careful administration of psychedelic treatments can make a huge difference in a person’s end-of-life experience. Dying well may not be on the minds of voters in Colorado right now, but it should be on Tuesday, when the state will vote on a ballot initiative determining whether to legalize psychedelic mushrooms.

More than two dozen other states and the U.S. House of Representatives are also grappling with their own versions of psychedelic legislation. Colorado may end up following in the footsteps of Oregon. In 2020, Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 109 and became the first state in the country to allow the use of psilocybin to treat chronic mental health issues like PTSD and depression. Measure 109 is the country’s first chance to create a model for psychedelic treatment for a variety of mental health conditions. Oregon will launch its state-licensed psilocybin services program in 2023, and the way it addresses access, equity, and safety will inform what happens next in other states and countries. (One of us, Barbara, is a member of the Oregon Psilocybin Services Advisory Board.) While Measure 109 doesn’t limit itself by specifying conditions that can be treated with psilocybin, therapists and health care providers plan to recommend its use to treat depression, PTSD, and anxiety, and to help people kick addictions.

They also plan to use it to reduce anxiety for patients at the end of life. From the start, researchers have been curious about how psychedelics might affect people who are dying. An early study on psychedelics in the 1970s at Johns Hopkins University, inspired by a terminal illness diagnosis received by one of the staff nurses, focused on the potential to use LSD to treat psychological and existential distress in cancer patients. Several other studies on psychedelics in end-of-life care followed, and the research has resumed in the last decade or so—all to good effect.

We have both worked with patients who struggle with deep existential, spiritual, and practical questions about their deaths: When will it happen? How much pain will there be? What happens after I die? How will my loved ones bear my being gone? Some find peace toward the end, but others experience mental and physical symptoms of profound anxiety, depression, agitation, and more. To treat these symptoms, we have only a handful of tools—opiates, antidepressants, and sometimes, unfortunately, palliative sedation.

“When we’ve tried everything and we can’t get the person comfortable, when we are not expecting them to be comfortable and awake, our last resort is palliative sedation. But they don’t have any quality of life with that. … The goal for hospice is not to put someone to sleep until they die,” said McFadden.

The human body and brain undergo a series of profound changes over the course of dying. Some of these, like elevated anxiety and agitation, can be difficult for the patient, family members, and caregivers. In the most extreme cases, our only recourse as health care providers is palliative sedation, which, as McFadden described, is essentially putting a person into an induced coma through to their death. This option can be a heartbreaking loss for the patient and family members who are deprived of any more meaningful interaction and can also cause tremendous moral distress for the clinicians involved. Having more therapeutic options available that can significantly reduce end-of-life distress without numbing or sedating the patient would be absolutely transformative for the field of medicine.

By contrast, based on several recent clinical trials, there is evidence that a single treatment with psilocybin produces lasting and significant reduction in anxiety and depression for people with a terminal diagnosis. The data to date show that using psilocybin in a controlled therapeutic environment decreases death anxiety and increases optimism and quality of life for people near the end of life.

The end of life is not only a universal experience, we also know it’s one where psychedelic medicines can spur a massive paradigm shift in how we provide care.

Oregon’s Measure 109 gave us a start. But some counties and cities in Oregon have put psychedelics back on the ballot this Election Day, pointing to a need for more public education about the benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapy, and more clarity on how these programs will work. Colorado’s ballot measure has the potential to move things much further. We hope that future legislation might more directly address the unique needs of those at the end of life. Some patients may not be able to travel to a service center or may have health care providers who are afraid to recommend the use of psilocybin. Others may not be able to afford to pay for psilocybin sessions out of pocket, since insurance coverage is still unknown. These details matter—pushing to get them included in legislation up front will speed up the ability of clinicians and therapists to provide psychedelic-assisted care for those at the end of life upon the adoption of new laws.

We’re on the verge of a transformation in end-of-life care that will touch us all, in some way, and voters in Colorado have a unique opportunity to help shape the future. From legislation to implementation and public conversation, it’s time to take a serious look at how psychedelic medicines can reframe our relationship with living and dying. Of course, it’s also time to vote.

Complete Article HERE!

Psychedelic trips and near-death experiences result in strikingly similar attitude shifts

The two experiences alter a person’s core beliefs in a comparable way and scientists want to understand why.

By Katie MacBride

In 2014, Tracy Morgan was in a car accident that nearly took his life. The former Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock cast member suffered near paralyzing injuries in the accident that killed his friend James McNair. In 2019, he told Oprah Winfrey how the crash fundamentally changed his attitude.

“The way I am with people, something’s just different. I find myself saying, ‘I love you’ 200 times a day to strangers.”

Such shifts in attitude about life and death are common among people who have had near-death experiences. Studies have found that those who describe themselves as having experienced near-death events have lower ratings in metrics assessing fear of death and higher ratings for belief in a happy afterlife.

Similar changes in attitude are often described by people who have psychedelic drug experiences. For example, a pivotal 2016 study that looked at the effect of psilocybin treatments in terminal cancer patients found that patients who took the drug had dramatic “increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism, and decreases in death anxiety.”

But what do near-death events and psychedelic experiences have in common? That’s what Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers sought to parse. Their results, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One, raise intriguing questions about what shifts our attitude toward life and death.

Here’s the background — Roland Griffiths is the director of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He was the first author on the 2016 psilocybin cancer patient study and has long been interested in attitude shifts resulting from psychedelic experiences.

What that study showed, Griffiths tells Inverse, is that “a single dose of psilocybin produced remarkable decreases in anxiety and depression that endured.”

What predicted these positive outcomes, he explains, was “a constellation of features of the experience.” These are classically defined as mystical experiences, though Griffiths cautions that some people may misunderstand what that means. “It’s not a supernatural thing; these have certain features that we can define empirically.”

Those features include “Sacredness, deeply felt peace and joy, transcendence of time and space,” and “internal unity and external unity.” The cliche but accurate way to describe that unity is feeling “one with the universe.” A psychedelic experience with those qualities is predictive of decreased anxiety and depression, as well as shifts in attitude about death and dying.

“If you look at the phenomenological features of near-death experiences, there’s something called a near-death experience questionnaire, it looks again suspiciously like the mystical experiences, there are so many features in common,” Griffiths says. “So that prompted us to wonder, ‘do we have a model [with psychedelics] that is very similar — in terms of brain mechanisms or psychological changes — to experiences that occur naturally.”

Griffiths and his colleagues decided to hone in on that question by directly comparing a group of people who claim to have had a near-death or “non-ordinary” experience that altered their attitudes about death and dying with a group who reported similar changes after taking a psychedelic drug.

What the researchers did — Researchers administered a survey to 3192 people. There were 900 in the near-death or other non-ordinary experience group; the remaining participants were sorted into groups based on the drug responsible for the experience in question: LSD, DMT, psilocybin, or ayahuasca — a psychoactive brew derived from specific shrubs that have traditionally been used in spiritual ceremonies by indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin.

Participants were given a series of questionnaires designed to parse different aspects of their experience and the enduring effects. To quantify the “cognitive, affective, paranormal, and transcendental” aspects of their experience, participants were given the Greyson Near-Death Experience Scale. These questions revolved around the thoughts, perceptions, and feelings that defined the person’s experience. The subjective aspects of the experience, as well as the attitude shifts following it, were evaluated using several other surveys.

What they found — One of the most striking findings is how similar the two groups were to each other.

“Almost 90 percent of both groups reported decreased fear of death following the experiences,” Griffiths says. “Both groups rated the experience very high for personal meaning and spiritual significance, and both groups reported persistent positive changes in personal well-being, life satisfaction, life purpose, and life meaning.”

Slight deviations occurred between the two groups; for example, those in the near-death experience group were more likely to report the experience as the single most meaningful of their life. The one exception was the ayahuasca subgroup, those participants rated the experience more closely to the near-death group: as the most meaningful of their life.

Interestingly, the psychedelic drug group rated the experience higher on the mystical and near-death experience questions than the participants in the actual near-death experience group.

Digging into the details — The reasons behind some of the slight discrepancies between the near-death and psychedelic groups were fairly obvious. For example, the near-death group was more likely to believe their life was in danger during the experience because, as Griffiths says, “they clinically were.”

Other differences, especially those among the psychedelic drug subgroups are less clear, though Griffiths offers some possible factors.

The ayahuasca subgroup being so similar to the near-death experience group on the singular meaningful experience metric may be the result of different demographics, or different contexts.

“The Ayahuasca group tended to be older, more affluent, and female,” Griffiths says. “And ayahuasca is more likely to be taken in a ceremonial setting. So there’s a set and setting difference there that’s distinct from psilocybin or LSD.”

While he can’t say for sure those account for the differences, they “may be very important to how those effects are interpreted.”

The answers likely won’t elude the researchers at the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research for too long. They’re studying many different aspects of psychedelic-assisted therapy.

“We’re looking at different therapeutic indications for these drugs. We have studies on alcohol use disorder, OCD, anorexia, Alzheimer’s, Lyme disease, and PTSD,” Griffiths says. “We’re also looking at the brain mechanisms involved in psychedelic experiences. We have a whole line of investigation in healthy volunteers aimed at more fully understanding the longer term implications of some of these profound experiences.”

Complete Article HERE!

Dying without fear

— How psychedelics can ease the anxiety of terminal illness

A palliative care physician on keeping ‘1 foot in the medical world and 1 foot in the psycho-spiritual world’

By Anne Strainchamps

When Lou Lukas meets a new patient, she knows two things right away. First, that her patient has been diagnosed with a terminal illness; and second, that they’re terrified.

For Lukas, who teaches palliative medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical School, guiding patients through that fear and anxiety is just as important as treating their disease, because it’s what will determine how they live during the time they have left.

“What happens to most people is that they’re so frightened, they start to shut down,” Lukas says. “They become depressed and anxious. Meanwhile, we start scheduling them for medical treatments that may or may not work. But we haven’t questioned whether we can stop treatment because they’re too terrified to think about the possibility. So we get stuck in this cycle of clinging to life, even if it means I’m spending three days a week going through treatment and not spending time with my family. And in the end, nobody gets out of here alive, right?”

Lukas believes psychedelics have the potential to transform life after a terminal diagnosis by easing the grip of fear. Like many palliative medicine physicians, she pays close attention to the growing body of clinical trials for psychedelic-assisted therapy.

“It’s phenomenal,” she says. “Somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of people have profound experiences that dramatically change their life and their perception of their illness, which is remarkable because nothing else works like this.”

Wanting to know more about the future of psychedelics in end-of-life care, Anne Strainchamps of “To The Best Of Our Knowledge” got in touch with Lukas.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Anne Strainchamps: The FDA has not yet approved psilocybin for medical use. But clinical trials are underway in medical centers around the country. Tell me about yours.

Lou Lukas: I’m doing a trial of a psilocybin protocol for people who have pancreas cancer, which as you know is one of the most lethal of the solid organ cancers. Most people are diagnosed very far along and we can give them a couple of months usually, but not a whole lot longer than that. Some people might live a year, a year and a half. So you can imagine being told this.

AS: It’s a terrifying diagnosis.

LL: It is. And so people who are at our cancer center being treated for their pancreas cancer will be offered admission into this study, which will take them through six to eight hours of preparatory counseling, a day-long dosing session, and then several sessions of integration afterwards.

AS: What is it like to take psilocybin, for someone who has a terminal illness? How do they feel the day after? What’s different?

LL: It isn’t even the day after! When the dosing session is finished, when they come back into consensus reality, they just look at you like — “that was amazing.”

I witnessed one patient say, “All that anxiety I felt? It’s just stories. And I can get a different story. Yeah, I’ve got cancer, but I don’t need to be that worried about it.”

Underneath it all, people report a sense of being in the presence of love. You know, we put up a lot of defenses to get through our world, to keep ourselves physically and emotionally safe. And if we were able to let some of those defenses down, maybe we would have more access to love. And if you have that, then you can really accept a lot of things.

AS: What opens up for patients and their families, when they’re less frightened of the prospect of dying, when that anxiety eases?

LL: Then it becomes possible to think about going out with some joy and some curiosity and really full of life. Like: “What gifts do I need to leave to my family? How do I pass on some of my wisdom?”

We’ve all got a deadline in life.

There are some people who even talk about the ecstatic grief of knowing that this life we’re living is so precious and so sacred. But it’s only when there’s not that much of it left that you really feel the beauty and magnificence of it. So if you can help to convey that to people, if you can say, “Wow, look at this gift we’re sharing. Look at the intimacy we’re able to have now because I don’t have that much more time to hold your hand,” then you can really help people grow from generation to generation.

AS: You must be a very unusual palliative physician, because honestly, I think most would be more like, “Maybe we should add some more morphine.”

LL: I think given the opportunity, most palliative doctors would go into similar territory. I teach residents and fellows, and I tell them, “If you don’t talk to people about this, who will?” Because even if a patient has a trusted spiritual advisor, their pastor may not have any idea how sick they are. And if you don’t initiate those conversations about making meaning out of their life, they’re never going to connect with their pastor in a different way.

Our ability to reclaim some of the shamanic origins of medicine means learning how to bridge this gap. We need more physicians who feel called to edge-walking — one foot in the medical world and one foot in the psycho-spiritual world.

AS: I imagine some of these terminally ill patients must say, “If only I’d had this revelation 30, 40 years ago, I might have lived differently.” It does raise the question — why should people have to wait until they’re dying to have psychedelic therapy?

LL: Well, exactly. I’ve been thinking that it could be used like a sacrament, or rite of passage. Maybe when you come into adulthood, and then perhaps when you get married or have a child, or perhaps every decade, you just touch back down and remember that you’re connected to everything.

Almost like a ritual bath, a mikvah in Judaism — perhaps there’s this time when I take a psychedelic bath, when I think, “I’m going to wash myself in the universe. I’m going to immerse myself in the unconscious mind. I’m going to feel that expanse of consciousness and realize that I’m part of everything.”

And then come back and do the laundry and change the diapers.

Complete Article HERE!

Terminally ill patients the first in B.C. to consume legal supply of magic mushrooms

“Having this approval, I feel like the luckiest person. I know a number of people with cancer who have died waiting for one.” — Thomas Hartle

Saskatchewan’s Thomas Hartle, 54, is one of five terminal cancer patients who will begin psychedelic therapy on Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Nanaimo. Hartle will use psilocybin to help cope with the anxiety surrounding his diagnosis.

By Sarah Grochowski

Five terminal cancer patients have been granted Canada’s first legal, domestic supply of magic mushrooms to treat their end-of-life anxiety.

One of them, 54-year-old Thomas Hartle, arrived at Nanaimo airport Saturday morning from his home in Saskatoon to participate in psychedelic therapy using psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, which he hasn’t been able to legally do since August, when his one one-year exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act expired.

By that time, his Stage 4 colon cancer had returned.

“Having this approval, I feel like the luckiest person. I know a number of people with cancer who have died waiting for one,” said Hartle, a father of two girls, who will undergo psychedelic therapy by palliative care physicians with Nanaimo-based health care organization Roots To Thrive.

“I really didn’t think I was going to make it this long,” he said.

In January, Health Canada restored the ability of doctors to request access to psilocybin after excluding the non-market prescription from its Special Access Program (SAP). Now terminally-ill patients can access the drug if it is administered in a clinical setting.

Roots To Thrive doctors had their SAP requests for the patients approved last week and plan to distribute prescriptions from Calgary’s Psygen Labs to the group Sunday as individuals of the group set their intentions for their trip.

Saskatchewan’s Thomas Hartle, 54, is one of five terminal cancer patients who will begin psychedelic therapy on Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Nanaimo. Hartle will use psilocybin to help cope with the anxiety surrounding his diagnosis.
Saskatchewan’s Thomas Hartle, 54, is one of five terminal cancer patients who will begin psychedelic therapy on Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Nanaimo. Hartle will use psilocybin to help cope with the anxiety surrounding his diagnosis.

Hartle, who first underwent the treatment in Saskatchewan by ingesting magic mushrooms he grew himself, has a goal of coming to terms with dying.

“When you get a terminal cancer diagnosis, it instils a sense of panic in you, you can’t sleep. I was consumed with terror about who will be there for my daughters when I die. Worry took away my ability to function and live,” he said.

“Magic mushrooms allowed me to calm the worries in my head, allowing my body to use my energy for healing instead and process those fears in a supportive environment. The positive effects last six months.”Hartle’s main concern is that others battling terminal diagnoses will not be able to access a legal supply of psilocybin as easily.“When Health Canada first announced that doctors could request psilocybin they said the special access requests will have a quicker response rate, a matter of days for emergencies. However, it took three months for my doctors to get approval.”

As of Friday, Health Canada said it had received a total of 14 SAP applications for psilocybin — of those, six have been authorized, four are under review and four were withdrawn by the physician before a decision was rendered.

“Requests to the SAP involving new products or new indications typically take longer to process because verifications must take place with the manufacturer regarding product quality and their ability and willingness to provide the drug,” the agency said in an email.“However, once access to a specific product has been authorized by the SAP, ensuing requests for the same drug can be processed much more quickly.”Previous to the SAP allowance, patients were only able to access psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy through clinical trials or Sec. 56 exemptions.

“It took me 103 days to get my first exemption,” Hartle said. “Now, more than 200 days later, I’m still waiting to hear back about my renewal application.”

Spencer Hawkswell, CEO of TheraPsil, a Victoria group that helps Canadians get access to psychedelic therapy, said British Columbians approved for exemptions have been forced to source the drug by growing their own or purchasing it from an unlicensed dispensary.“Patients do not know what is inside the substances they are having to purchase. It’s not as safe as it should be,” Hawkswell said.Hartle, who plans to fly home Wednesday for his 70th round of chemotherapy, said time is of the essence for the terminally ill.

“It hurts my soul to know that so many people may not be getting the help they need as soon as they need it.”

Complete Article HERE!