Researchers look to hallucinogens to ease end-of-life anxieties

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It turns out some scientists are saying, “yes,” to drugs. Physicians and researchers are reevaluating hallucinogens like psilocybin, the psychotropic ingredient found in mushrooms, for their role in easing anxiety at the end of life, according to recent news reports.

Federal regulators nixed most legitimate clinical research on hallucinogens after the counter-culture movement of the 1960s embraced the use of the drugs as part of their anti-establishment activities. Now, under very controlled circumstances, researchers are once again examining their possible use in helping to treat depression and anxiety, especially among hospice patients at the end of life, The New York Times reported recently. Many researchers have gathered this week at in San Jose, CA, for a conference on psychedelic science.

During clinical trials, many participants felt “their egos and bodies vanishing as they felt part of some larger state of consciousness in which their personal worries and insecurities vanished,” according to the Times. It is that feeling of dissociation with one's body that may help terminal patients overcome their fear of physical death, researchers speculate. The drugs could also help non-terminal depression sufferers reassess their life attitudes and overcome their anxieties, according to the Times.