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How Psychedelic Drugs Can Help Patients Face Death
May 18, 2012 12:11 AM   Subscribe

Scientists investigate the use of psychedelic drugs in end of life therapy "Grob and his colleagues are part of a resurgence of scientific interest in the healing power of psychedelics. Michael Mithoefer, for instance, has shown that MDMA is an effective treatment for severe P.T.S.D. Halpern has examined case studies of people with cluster headaches who took LSD and reported their symptoms greatly diminished. And psychedelics have been recently examined as treatment for alcoholism and other addictions. "
posted by bookman117 (57 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
This reminded me of Aldous Huxley who got shot up with LSD on his death bed.
posted by Xurando at 12:21 AM on May 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Nice that science is starting to pick up where it left off nearly 50 years ago wrt to the therapeutic use of psychedelics (especially LSD).
posted by rmmcclay at 12:26 AM on May 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Did anyone else think that, given the way his sister described his death, Steve Jobs probably took LSD or some other psychedelic as he died? It's not like he made a big secret being a fan of LSD.
posted by delmoi at 12:36 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think I will just leave this here.
posted by adamvasco at 1:05 AM on May 18, 2012


It's about time. Drugs are demonised as bad for society and bad for the individual. They kill brain cells "you need and will need in the future". Well, if you have no future, what's the harm?

I have heard of the euphoria offered by MDMA, and for palliative care, why not? High doses of morphine are already given, and that's illegal for the rest of us. For older people heading down this road, that morphine is the difference between final days in tremendous physical and psychological pain -- or a numbed bliss. I know which one I would choose. If someone said, "Nickrussell, you can either live in tremendous pain and then expire, or drift off in a fog," it doesn't really seem like a choice. Give me the fog, yeah?

This is part of the big issue with blanket treatment for drugs. I agree that they should be kept out of the hands of teenagers, that adults should be allowed consumption via a highly-regulated environment (Holland, California), but for older people who have lived their lives? Let them experience the end of life in the minimum pain possible. They raised their families and/or made their contribution to society. They're made their choices, good and bad. They have lived with their failures and celebrated their successes. Let them go in peace, however that peace is precipitated.

If anyone has ever watched the end stages of life, it can be easy or it can be brutal. In the latter case, it becomes a living hell. The confusion. The fear. The pain. The aloneness. And none of those things are 'real'. They are perceptions. The figments generated by a brain unable to reconcile what is happening. And there's no cure, there's no getting better. There is only modification. Let them modify. Help them modify.
posted by nickrussell at 1:34 AM on May 18, 2012 [29 favorites]


LSD worked for my alcoholism. It was a difficult ride (fucking terrifying, let's be honest) and not intentional on my part, and there is a lot of work to do to get your head together after - for me it was years of rebuilding my life. But I have never once even felt like drinking since then, not even tempting. It still takes work to get anywhere from there, but it was a major catalyst, everything in my life re-started a little over a decade ago, when it looked like it was ending. I think it has very high potential for therapeutic value, but I wouldn't recommend using LSD therapeutically without informed consent - I stumbled on its benefits and sometimes I'm far from convinced it was an accident, in terms of the people around me at the time and the situation as it unfolded that night and since then. It's better to know what you're getting into before you get into it, and it's difficult to trust people who may have your best interest at heart but who won't be honest about their intentions.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:36 AM on May 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


what's the harm?

A bad trip on your 'death bed' would be pretty damn terrifying.

But I support this research.
If we can't have euthanasia, surely this...?
posted by Mezentian at 3:06 AM on May 18, 2012


A bad trip on your 'death bed' would be pretty damn terrifying.
Hmm... I don't think they are giving this to people as they are literally dying. Rather they're giving it to them in the months leading up to it, so they can get used to it and see if they like it.

I think with Baby Boomers staring to get to this age you'll see more acceptance of this kind of thing, since the boomers were much more likely to see drugs as something positive during their youth, compared to the pre-boomer age group. And of course, they have a lot more voting power.
posted by delmoi at 3:17 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


We can have euthanasia and drugs, and I for one plan on having plenty of both.
posted by WhitenoisE at 3:26 AM on May 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


I for one plan on having a tiny bit of enthanasia and a whole lot of twelfth-dimensional, purple-tinged cow stomach prom night flatscreen beach tides realization of a gentle, caring Pulse in the entire enchilada.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 3:44 AM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is all well and good: humane and cost effective...but what about the shareholders?
posted by larry_darrell at 5:22 AM on May 18, 2012


There is an excellent BBC Horizon documentary on the use of drugs to cure addictions:

Psychedelic science.
posted by marienbad at 5:33 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If psilocybin can so reliably induce these life-altering experiences, why have the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have taken magic mushrooms recreationally not had this profound experience?

They haven't?
posted by empath at 5:46 AM on May 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


i saw God, man
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:56 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good stuff. And it makes one wonder... if insight from psychedelic experience is valuable for people at the end of their lives, wouldn't the experience at the beginning of peoples lives be even better? I think so. Perhaps a rite of passage to adulthood.
posted by sea at 6:17 AM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Personally, I'll be impressed when LSD is finally given to babies as soon as they take their first gasps of air.
posted by item at 6:17 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think MDMA has huge potential for helping many different kinds of emotional and psychological disturbances, including but not limited to depression, addiction, anxiety, and PTSD. I hope that within my lifetime it will become a mainstream treatment.
posted by jfwlucy at 6:18 AM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


LSD had been used a many years ago on the holocaust author with terrible symptoms of PTSD...he was treated in Holland by therapist and lived into his 90s. Wrote about his symptoms and cure:
HERE
posted by Postroad at 6:21 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


She saaaaaid, I know what it's like to be almost dead.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 6:31 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This may be a double. A few times at least the Johns Hopkins group has been cited on here.
posted by scunning at 6:33 AM on May 18, 2012


I saw man, god!
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:51 AM on May 18, 2012


A bad trip on your 'death bed' would be pretty damn terrifying.

The ultimate k-hole. On the bright side, well, it wouldn't be bad for long. Come my own exit, I definitely plan to be sorted for e's and calvados.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:55 AM on May 18, 2012


empath: They haven't?

I've not, but I'm wired differently. I just wish my week-by-week natural psychadelia involved more episodes of crystal beauty and fewer gremlins tossing buckets of rusty nails into Sears clothes dryers. The catharsis model hasn't work for me because the monsters (purely a metaphor, I hope) give me another guided tour of hell by the end of the month. But YMMV and I'm not one to stand in the way of how other people chase their happiness.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:08 AM on May 18, 2012


I'll be impressed when LSD is finally given to babies as soon as they take their first gasps of air.

The thing is, babies don't need it. Little kids are tripping at all times. It takes them years to come down. That's why it's so important to be kind to them.
posted by flabdablet at 7:26 AM on May 18, 2012 [23 favorites]


I sort-of-accidentally used LSD to quit smoking cigarettes. It was a white-knuckled 12 hours or so, but I got through it by obsessively playing Mech Warrior on Nintindo 64, which should tell you how long ago it was. I had exactly one cigarette craving after that, which was after a very stressful situation and passed very quickly. It felt like I rewired my brain, and I guess in a sense I did. I think in a more controlled situation (meaning, not a house party) this approach could be very effective.
posted by vibrotronica at 7:39 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]




The thing is, babies don't need it. Little kids are tripping at all times. It takes them years to come down. That's why it's so important to be kind to them.

I first figured out that my sister and I had a very different idea about drugs when we had a conversation about LSD:

Sis: LSD is great! Tripping is great!

Me: Why?

S: It just is!

M: Why?

S: Hmmm. It's hard to explain.

M: Well, give me an example of what you might do while tripping.

S: (Grabs pencil) See this pencil? If I were tripping, I'd be staring at it. Studying it. Figuring out its purpose. Trying to know absolutely everything about this pencil.

M: (puzzled) But I do things like that all the time, while I'm bored in class.
posted by Melismata at 7:46 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's hard to explain.

That's a perfect explanation.
posted by empath at 7:54 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do things like that all the time, while I'm bored in class.

And when you do those things, are you filled with wonderment at their ineffable profundity?
posted by flabdablet at 8:10 AM on May 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


I remember hearing about LSD for the dying some years ago (I really don't remember where). I'm a cancer survivor, and have made up my mind that if it DOES come back one day, and I wind up Stage IV, that I'm going to have that LSD-for-the-dying therapy. It may help and can't possibly hurt. And hey, fun!

As for "bad trips" as far as I know the LSD is administered in a very controlled environment with an experienced facilitator as a guide, which minimizes the chance of an unpleasant experience.

If I've got to die - and we all do eventually - I'd rather go out having had a lovely acid trip than in the hospital, hooked up to tubes and a ventilator. I hope as the Boomers and X'ers age and die that helpful psychedelics and euthanasia are there for those that want/need them.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:16 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


When my mother had a few weeks left from a cancer I wished that she could have at least one if not more than one DMT experience.
posted by juiceCake at 8:24 AM on May 18, 2012


I, for one, would like to float off into the ether on the wings of a nice beer buzz.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:53 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I tried salvia divinorum, I thought I was experiencing my death right then and there, so I now feel prepared for the real thing.
posted by orme at 8:57 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought I did die on DMT. I actually thought my body evacuated, and I apologized to my friend for losing it on her floor. Things are going to get really weird when I actually am dying, if it's anything like a DMT trip.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 9:05 AM on May 18, 2012



A bad trip on your 'death bed' would be pretty damn terrifying.


Then again, spending your last days of life full of depression and anxiety is a pretty fucking bad trip in itself, and it's not even drug-induced.
posted by costanza at 9:12 AM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


This reminded me of Aldous Huxley who got shot up with LSD on his death bed.

This reminded me of Aldous Huxley who wrote about beople getting shot up with Soma on their death beds.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:19 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


My father is a priest. One of his parishoners was dying of cancer. He was also a raging alcoholic and a doctor himself. On his death bed the man was not suffering so much from the cancer as he was from the fact that the hospital would allow him a drink. My father eventually talked another doctor to perscribe an oral liquid painkiller, not because he needed the meds, but because the liquid had an alcohol base and it was the only drink the hospital administration would allow.

Though I've been clean for decades now and have no desie for drugs of any kind in my daily life, I would certainly rather go out high as a fucking kite.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:27 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Edgar G. Robinson's exit in Soylent Green was prescient?
posted by pdxpogo at 9:51 AM on May 18, 2012


A bad trip on your 'death bed' would be pretty damn terrifying.

Ain't no good trip out. For those of us with psychedelic experience, these sorts of articles and research is all sort of "no duh."

IMO, LSD/MDMA/psilocybin and other psychedelics help people internalize their own lives, including their deaths (which we all careen towards yet do not discuss), by presenting a truly transfiguring alternative reality. What else is death but "your" material components taking on a new form (most importantly, one that (probably) doesn't include your current consciousness).

Once you are willing to submit, open the doors of perception, (PDF) and accept that ego is a collective human delusion, sure, your own death becomes a bit easier to handle.

if insight from psychedelic experience is valuable for people at the end of their lives, wouldn't the experience at the beginning of peoples lives be even better? I think so. Perhaps a rite of passage to adulthood.

Yeah, it's almost as if some cultures might have develop rites based upon such substances!

Nice that science is starting to pick up where it left off nearly 50 years ago wrt to the therapeutic use of psychedelics (especially LSD).

That's the most depressing part of it. How much have we lost in those dark ages?

There are countless reasons for drugs to be legalized, but first and foremost, I think it's a First Amendment issue. This shit is religious for some people, including myself (let's not argue about the definition of "religious").

Secondly, it's good medicine in many cases (unfortunately the US Constitution doesn't protect the right to "good medicine").

I'm gonna have to do a post about the Judeo-Christian Cannabis Connection sometime ...
posted by mrgrimm at 10:00 AM on May 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


This reminded me of Aldous Huxley who wrote about beople getting shot up with Soma on their death beds.

I had a Highdea once that soma stood for Stoned Off My Ass and that a future company would develop a marijuana candy bar based on it.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:02 AM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


accept that ego is a collective human delusion

That's maybe a little harsh. The self is good at what it does, and helpful if used appropriately. Certainly not a good idea to let it mistake itself for the whole deal, though.
posted by flabdablet at 10:15 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


the Judeo-Christian Cannabis Connection

Talk about your high holidays!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:48 AM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I, for one, would like to float off into the ether on the wings of a nice beer buzz ether.
posted by 445supermag at 11:13 AM on May 18, 2012


I was always a bit resistant to MDMA but I loved acid. The last time was ten years ago, after a three year hiatus. I was a bit worried beforehand, would it be too much? But honestly it was like coming gloriously home, only with three years of new perspective to play with. I've got too much going on to practically handle the mental shakeup at this point in my life and am very happily focused on externalities, but honestly, when I'm on my way out, what a beautiful way to review and reconcile the journeys that got me there.
posted by freya_lamb at 11:44 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am genuinely baffled by the idea that anyone would want to die without psychedelics and MDMA.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:30 PM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was always a bit resistant to MDMA but I loved acid. The last time was ten years ago, after a three year hiatus. I was a bit worried beforehand, would it be too much? But honestly it was like coming gloriously home, only with three years of new perspective to play with.

Serious question: does acid exist at this point? I had an opportunity in highschool and didn't try it, but as an adult could see considering doing so, but my understanding is that the acid supply dried up completely in 2000/2001.
posted by rr at 12:35 PM on May 18, 2012


Edgar G. Robinson's exit in Soylent Green was prescient?

I'm convinced that Harry Harrison is a time traveller.
posted by mikelieman at 12:44 PM on May 18, 2012


My mother is currently dying from cancer, with up to six months left (hard to judge, those pronouncements are very error-prone). I wish there was pure MDMA available for her to try. She got a cannabis card (lives in San Francisco so this was very easy), but pot causes her to have anxiety attacks sometimes. The wide variety of opiates she's taking help with the physical pain, for now at least, but do little for her psyche.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 12:54 PM on May 18, 2012


but as an adult could see considering doing so, but my understanding is that the acid supply dried up completely in 2000/2001.

Last time I saw it around was in 2002 or so.
posted by empath at 12:56 PM on May 18, 2012


Serious question: does acid exist at this point? I had an opportunity in highschool and didn't try it, but as an adult could see considering doing so, but my understanding is that the acid supply dried up completely in 2000/2001.

It exists but it's much harder to find. Rolling Stone did a good article on the Pickard bust and its effect back in 2001.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:57 PM on May 18, 2012


Acid comes and goes. There was a wave of it 2007-2008ish (coincidentally my senior year in college) but it seems to have died down.
posted by Veritron at 1:29 PM on May 18, 2012


If psilocybin can so reliably induce these life-altering experiences, why have the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have taken magic mushrooms recreationally not had this profound experience?

They haven't?


I mean, he basically goes on to explain set and setting, though he doesn't use those words. I think he's exactly right here. If you dose with the attitude that you're going to see God, there's a decent chance you'll see God. If you do it with the attitude that this is gonna be a kickass party, odds are good that it's gonna be a kickass party but pretty low on the spiritual content. It's not 100% reliable, but most of the time you get what you sign up for.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:05 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I absolutely believe in this. I have some anxiety and a huge portion of it is related to mortality and my fear of death. It gets so bad that I can't even think about the very fact of death or read the words cancer, aneurysm, dementia, etc. without getting dizzy. I am totally terrified of it.

However, some of the few times I have ever been able to talk about death at length as a natural part of our mortal progression have been in this kind of setting. Not only does my heart not race, but I actually feel good about my time as a mortal and completely accepting of my transient place in this world. I try to hang on to this and keep it in my awareness, but it is not completely an intellectual process. So much of it is emotional and emotions are much more difficult than thoughts to change. If this helps people become able to emotionally accept the their mortality, I truly hope it will become more widely appreciated.
posted by troublewithwolves at 6:43 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


M: (puzzled) But I do things like that all the time, while I'm bored in class.

Did it change your life?
posted by krinklyfig at 12:00 AM on May 19, 2012


If you dose with the attitude that you're going to see God, there's a decent chance you'll see God. If you do it with the attitude that this is gonna be a kickass party, odds are good that it's gonna be a kickass party but pretty low on the spiritual content. It's not 100% reliable, but most of the time you get what you sign up for.

That's not how it worked for me. I mean, sure, I had my good times and enjoyed the ride many times when that was my intention, but the simplest way to put it is it doesn't allow you to hide from yourself. Not for very long, anyway. Your intention might not be to see God, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Maybe you hadn't planned on it, but God might have some other ideas.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:03 AM on May 19, 2012


my understanding is that the acid supply dried up completely in 2000/2001

Not true. It did become scarce for a while, but it exists if you're looking for it. Problem is there is a premium on it now in many places that didn't seem to be in place before, and I've actually scored some pure bunkum at like $10 a dose (expensive, more than double the going price for small amounts), which never, ever happened before a few years ago, not for me anyway. LSD is the kind of thing some people make with the intention to give it away, or they just attempt to cover their costs, and once that's done they just dose people to spread the love, as it were. Once the equipment and precursors are acquired, the amount which can be produced is so large and the dose so small that the marginal cost becomes miniscule.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:08 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've always had a fascination with psychedelics. It has been a couple years now since my last journey, but I'm sure there will be more down the road at some point. Psilocybin has been utilized many times over, almost to the point where I feel I've began to lose the magic. Yet, I've always seen it as a kind of reset button. Where as I gain more empathy, understanding, and love. Love for everything, love of nothing. It almost has a religious feel of "oneness" with the universe. Even when I've experienced negative side effects (bad trip at a point), I had a glorious time upon reflection. Good company and environment are very important, and I will never forget some of my trips. They easily are in some of the most influential events in my life.

Salvia on the other hand... that was as if the universe was collapsing into itself. Certainly not the kindest substances. This was my first drug experiment, even prior to cannabis. It totally changed my perspective on recreational chemicals.

I really think people could benefit from these types of therapies. Many people have already done so on their own accord, and have known this for years. It really is a shame that people do not see these as valuable tools and continue to promote the illegal status quo.
posted by handbanana at 6:45 AM on May 19, 2012


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