Magic drug for the dy­ing

Psy­che­delic pill to ease anx­i­ety in pal­lia­tive care

The Courier-Mail - - NEWS - GRANT McARTHUR

DY­ING pa­tients will be treated with psy­che­delic syn­thetic magic mush­rooms un­der an Aus­tralian med­i­cal trial aim­ing to ease paralysing anx­i­ety felt by pal­lia­tive care pa­tients.

It is hoped the drugs will give ter­mi­nally ill pa­tients a new per­spec­tive on life, guided by psychiatrists to re­move the fear and de­pres­sion which takes over their fi­nal months.

The con­tro­ver­sial trial at Mel­bourne’s St Vin­cent’s Hos­pi­tal has taken more than a year to gain ap­proval by fed­eral and state au­thor­i­ties, but will see the first of 30 pa­tients treated from April.

St Vin­cent’s clin­i­cal psy- chol­o­gist Dr Mar­garet Ross said that the study would see pa­tients given a sin­gle dose of psilo­cy­bin, which can un­lock a sec­tion of a pa­tient’s brain to give them an al­tered out­look on their sit­u­a­tion ap­proach­ing death.

“It is a lit­tle bit con­tro­ver­sial be­cause ob­vi­ously we are us­ing a psy­che­delic com­pound, which is a syn­thetic ver­sion of what is col­lo­qui­ally known as magic mush­rooms,” Dr Ross said.

“For many peo­ple when they are di­ag­nosed and liv­ing with a ter­mi­nal ill­ness it is ab­so­lutely dev­as­tat­ing.

“Peo­ple can live for months and years in pal­lia­tive care and it is a long time to live with that hang­ing over your head.

“Peo­ple can be quite paral­ysed by anx­i­ety and de­spair and feel de­mor­alised and with­draw. It can have a pro­found im­pact on qual­ity of life and their ex­pe­ri­ences with their pre­cious time.”

Up to three in 10 pal­lia­tive care pa­tients can ex­pe­ri­ence ex­treme dis­tress in their fi­nal months. Although some can be re­lieved through anti-anx­i­ety med­i­ca­tions or psy­chother­a­pies, Dr Ross said oth­ers could not.

But US stud­ies us­ing psilo­cy­bin were able to over­come se­vere de­pres­sion in about 70 per cent of cases. “They had re­mis­sion of symp­toms. It was rapid, it was dra­matic and it lasted for up to six months,” Dr Ross said.

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