Magic drug for the dying
Psychedelic pill to ease anxiety in palliative care
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.