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Psilocybin for End-Of-Life Care: A Path to Peace and Acceptance

A logo from Clinical Cognitive Training an Oregon Psilocybin and Psychedelic Training ProgramA logo from Clinical Cognitive Training an Oregon Psilocybin and Psychedelic Training ProgramA logo from Clinical Cognitive Training an Oregon Psilocybin and Psychedelic Training Program
May 29, 2024
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As we come face-to-face with the realities of end-of-life, it can be hard to know how to find peace. 

Sometimes, it feels like pharmaceutical options available to us or our loved ones are either ineffective, too expensive, or have too many side effects.

Fortunately, an increase in scientific research has shown benefits to the therapeutic use of psychedelics. Governmental agencies are recognizing this research, and have been enacting changes to laws and regulations to make these treatments more available.

These developments could make a real difference in end-of-life care. Below we outline how psychedelics, such as psilocybin, may play a role in bringing peace when it’s needed most.

psilocybin end of life care

Is Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy Available for End-Of-Life Care?

The effects of various psychedelics have been studied in a variety of clinical trials, and show great promise in providing comfort to those with a terminal illness. Psilocybin has been used successfully in treating behavioral issues such as addiction, depression, and anxiety in a variety of scenarios, including end-of-life care.

With end-of-life care, effectively treating the associated depression and anxiety can be a major challenge. Pharmaceutical approaches can take weeks to develop an effect and can have various side effects. 

Psilocybin treatment could result in benefits that are immediate and long-term, without side effects or addiction concerns.

In Oregon, psilocybin must be administered as part of a medical trial or in an approved facility. Psilocybin facilitator training in Oregon prepares their students to guide patients through supervised psilocybin-assisted treatment in a controlled environment.

psilocybin for end of life

What Psychedelics Are Used for End-Of-Life Care?

A variety of psychedelics have been used as recreational drugs due to the mental, emotional, and physical sensations that they evoke. 

These same substances may have value in end-of-life care.

Ketamine, LSD, and MDMA are other well-known psychedelics in addition to Psilocybin. These substances evoke different effects on the mind and body. 

The goal is to reduce the psychological and existential distress that end-of-life patients often experience. In some situations, pain management may also be pursued.

5 Key Insights About Psilocybin for End-Of-Life Care

#1: Historical Significance

Psilocybin has a long history of being used in the sacred traditions of historic peoples in Mesoamerica. Spiritual leaders guided their people during the administration of psychedelic substances to bring enlightenment or a stronger connection to the spiritual world.

While we can’t know for sure exactly how they integrated psilocybin into their practices, we do know that in many Indigenous societies, the connection between the body and spirit was important. 

Modern medicine has intensely focused on developing pharmacological solutions to address the physical ailments of terminal illnesses. There has been less focus and less success in dealing with the psychological effects of terminal illness.

It is possible that aspects of these ancient practices, with a more spiritual approach to healing, are applicable even today.

psilocybin end of life

#2: Emotional Benefits

The “spiritual” experiences associated with psilocybin use may result in various long-lasting emotional benefits. Users may feel more positive and have a sense of “openness” and acceptance.

These potential emotional benefits have led to increased scientific research into the use of psychedelics like psilocybin to help with mood disorders. It may be that psilocybin could be effective in treating depression and anxiety.

While anxiety and depression at various stages of life, for a variety of reasons, it is especially challenging for those with a terminal illness. Psilocybin end-of-life care may be an effective way to improve the emotional state of terminally ill patients.

#3: Pain Management

Psychedelic substances have been studied not just due to their effects on mood, but also due to their impact on chronic pain. Pain management in end-of-life care can be a major struggle for patients.

Opioids have long been used for pain management, as a way to help block pain signals between the brain and the body. However, the efficacy of these drugs can be reduced with long-term usage. Additionally, opioids may cause physical addiction.

Many patients who have received psilocybin for end-of-life care have experienced positive benefits for several months – even up to a year – after treatment. The administration of psilocybin is typically done in just one or two sessions. This is a stark contrast to ingesting pain relief pills daily.

The result? A pain management approach that may carry with it a reduced risk of side effects and addiction associated with traditional pharmaceuticals.

psilocybin for end of life care

#4: Therapeutic Mechanisms 

The mood-boosting effects of psilocybin may evoke a positive change in the thought patterns and emotions of patients with terminal illnesses. Medical science has brought us closer to understanding exactly how this might work.

Ingesting psilocybin could have effects on the body similar to that of serotonin.

  • Serotonin is a natural body chemical well understood to have certain cognitive and emotional effects. Serotonin is often called the “feel good” chemical in our bodies.
  • When psilocybin is ingested, the liver metabolizes it into psilocin, which closely resembles the structure of serotonin. This resemblance results in psilocybin stimulating the same receptors as serotonin.

Additionally, psychedelics like psilocybin could disrupt the undesired functional connections caused by long-term pain, essentially “rewiring” the brain and bringing sustained pain relief.

Using psilocybin for end-of-life therapy could be an effective strategy due to these positive cognitive effects that scientists have been observing.

#5: Scientific Support

We have mentioned above that there are numerous scientific studies around the medical use of psychedelics such as psilocybin for end-of-life care. Fortunately, the results of these clinical trials have generally been positive. 

As this is still an emerging field of research, there is a lot of experimentation with different substances and treatment regimens. However, medical science requires large sample sizes over an extended period to achieve certainty. 

Medical professionals have been hesitant to claim definitive proof of the long-term efficacy and safety of psychedelic treatments. At the same time, there are strong indications that these treatments are both effective and safe.

#6: Regulatory and Ethical Considerations

With any emerging approach to medical treatment, it is vital to incorporate the appropriate regulatory and ethical considerations. Utilizing psychedelics such as psilocybin entails unique concerns that should be fully explored before undertaking treatment.

Certain hallucinogenic and potentially other short-term effects need to be fully understood by the patient. Additionally, the recency of research means that any adverse long-term effects are not yet fully understood.

The patient must give informed consent, and the expected benefits should be weighed against any potential risks.

In the United States, the Right To Try Act paved the way for terminally ill patients to have access to drugs and therapies that are still in the experimental phase. While this does not yet include psychedelics specifically, it is a step in the right direction.

Additionally, certain jurisdictions within the USA have decriminalized psilocybin specifically. In 2020, Oregon was the first state to decriminalize psilocybin and also make it legal to use it in supervised settings. Colorado enacted a similar law in 2022.

Discover More About Psilocybin End-Of-Life Care at Clinical Cognitive Training

Psilocybin treatment involves more than simple ingestion: important steps should be taken before and after. The supervised use of psilocybin – with a trained facilitator – can help ensure safe and effective results.

To become a trained facilitator of psilocybin-assisted therapy, Clinical Cognitive Training in Portland, Oregon provides comprehensive training. Part of this training includes a unit of study dedicated to anxiety reduction during psilocybin end-of-life care.

If you’re a caregiver for someone with a terminal illness, learn more about how becoming a trained facilitator can expand the impact you can have.

Contact Cognitive Clinical Training to learn how facilitator training programs can prepare you to be part of the changing paradigm in end-of-life care.

psilocybin for end of life
The content in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.