Terminal Illness and Natural Psychedelics

Massachusetts for Mental Health Options supports a 2024 ballot question to create a responsible, regulated program for therapeutic access to natural psyche­delics. Through this initiative we can bring these tools to people facing terminal illness, veterans, first responders, and others who deserve access to healing. Voters in Oregon (2020) and Colorado (2022) have enacted similar programs.

The proposed natural psychedelics ballot question will allow veterans with PTSD to have a chance to recover and truly heal, and seriously ill patients to find relief from the anxiety, depression and existential distress they commonly experience.

Individuals living with an incurable disease deserve the opportunity to live out their final days in peace, unencumbered by anxiety and depression in the last months, weeks, and days of their life.

The pharmacological and psychological support that is available to patients with serious illness remains often limited to alleviating their distress. There has been growing evidence showing the safety and potential benefit of psilocybin-assisted therapy to address anxiety, depression, and existential distress in patients with cancer.

Yvan Beaussant, MD, MSc, Dana Farber Institute

Many of the advancements related to the effects of natural psychedelics on individuals have come from studies that exclusively focused on exploring the potential benefits of natural psychedelic therapies in patients with a life-limiting illness.

Some examples of this work include:

  • Grob CS, Danforth AL, Chopra GS, et al. Pilot study of psilocybin treatment for anxiety in patients with advanced-stage cancer. Archives of general psychiatry 2011 ;68(1):71-8. DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.116.
  • Griffiths RR, Johnson MW, Carducci MA, et al. Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. J Psychopharmacol 2016;30(12): 1181-1197. DOI: 10.1177/0269881116675513.
  • Ross S, Bossis A, Guss J, et al. Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: a randomized controlled trial. J Psychopharmacol 2016;30(12):1165-1180. DOI: 10.1177/0269881116675512.
  • Agrawal M, Richards W, Beaussant Y, et al. Psilocybin-assisted group therapy in patients with cancer diagnosed with a major depressive disorder. Cancer 2023. DOI: 10.1002/cncr.35010.
  • Lewis BR, Garland EL, Byrne K, et al. HOPE: A Pilot Study of Psilocybin Enhanced Group Psychotherapy in Patients With Cancer. J Pain Symptom Manage 2023;66(3):258-269. DOI: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2023.06.006.
  • Anderson BT, Danforth A, Daroff PR, et al. Psilocybin-assisted group therapy for demoralized older long-term AIDS survivor men: An open-label safety and feasibility pilot study. EClinicalMedicine 2020;27:100538. DOI: 10.1016/j.eclinm.2020.100538.

In November of 2023, Jonathan Swift of the the Boston Globe highlighted the work of a team of local researchers, including Dr. Beaussant, and their ongoing study.

“The pilot study, which combines a single dose of the psyche­delic drug with talk therapy, began in 2022 with the approval of the Food and Drug Administration, and has so far provided psilocybin to eight patients, six of whom have since died. The trial, which is expected to be completed next year after two more patients receive doses, is gauging how well dying patients tolerate the drug and whether it eases their “psycho­logical and existential distress.”

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