Psychedelics and Death Anxiety

The anxiousness felt, when an individual contemplates their own mortality, can at times, be overwhelming. Death anxiety is the second largest fear in most people, next to public speaking. An interesting thing about death anxiety, is that it is highly feared, and also, uncommon to discuss with one another. These thoughts are often kept to ourselves, and ruminated on, as people will often assume that talking about death, will bring them closer to it. People often do not want to bring up such a morbid or sad topic, for fear of shifting the energy in a conversation, or that their ideas and thoughts may not be met with compassion or empathy. Discussing death can be an incredibly positive experience. Death positivity is a direct line to assisting in reduction of the existential distress, as is the use of psychedelic assisted therapies.

           The use of psychedelic medicine in reducing death anxiety, has been applied to individuals who are facing a life-threatening cancer diagnosis, as a means of assisting them in developing an inner sense of calm, when being faced so directly with their own death. According to Agin-Liebes, et al (2020), psilocybin-facilitated therapy may enhance the psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being of patients with life-threatening cancer. The use of psychedelic medicine, can help persons use their own inner healing, to establish a healthier relationship with the end of life. This is accomplished through the therapeutic process of preparation, medicine, and integration, using psychedelic medicine as a means of accessing the inner connections that we feel between our self, and our world. In a recent study, Ross, et al. (2016) found that the pharmacological/psilocybin intervention produced rapid anti-depressant and anxiolytic clinical benefits.

           The use of psychedelics in medicine is rapidly growing, as an alternate form of care, for those who may not be finding success in traditional therapies. With the use of these medicines, and the assistance of trained mental health professionals, individuals are now able to face their death, before it comes, to reduce their fear of dying. In the state of Minnesota, Ketamine is the medicine that is currently used for psychedelic therapy. However, other medicines will soon follow. According to Spiegel (2016), the effect of psilocybin seems to last much longer than that of ketamine, though both alter mental state acutely. With the upcoming incorporation of MDMA and Psilocybin, in conjunction with psychotherapy, we are now opening more ways for clients to receive care.

Kristen Paradise is a psychedelic therapist at the Institute for Integrative Therapies, and currently provides Ketamine-assisted therapy at IIT's Saint Paul location.

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