March 19, 2014

Hallucinogenics for the Dying

In the background and for some time now  (dare I say just in time for boomers), researchers have been working on drugs to ease the passage from this life.  I do believe that most of the pain at the end of life  is not physical but psychological.

In 2004, the Washington Post published, 'Ecstasy' Use Studied to Ease Fear in Terminally Ill

Drugs can ease pain and reduce anxiety, but what about the more profound issues that come with impending death? The wish to resolve lingering conflicts with family members. The longing to know, before it's too late, what it means to love, or what it meant to live. There is no medicine to address such dis-ease.
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[Lead researcher] Halpern emphasized the differences between his study and the freewheeling experiments conducted by Leary in the 1960s.

"This is not about hippy dippy Halpern trying to turn on the world. I'm not looking at this as a magic bullet," he said. "But for a lot of people, the anxiety about death is so tremendous that there is no way to get their arms around the problems that were ongoing in their family. This could be a substantial contribution to the range of palliative care strategies we're trying to develop for people facing their death."

The FDA approved the use of MDMA or ecstasy for a Harvard Medical School study  which began in 2005 at McLean Hospital.

“MDMA, unlike traditional hallucinogens that can make a person lose their sense of self, lets a person keep their identity,” said Halpern, who is also a HMS instructor of psychiatry…..He cited his work with a friend’s father, who was dying of cancer in his 50s.

“He was focusing all of his attention on the time that he didn’t have,” Doblin said. “MDMA made him appreciate the time that he did have.”

Doblin stressed that MDMA is not a miracle drug.  “It does not take you away from the pain, but rather through the pain,” he said. “You go through a more fluid emotional state.”

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Not for nothing is MDMA ,which some describe as an emotional hallucinogen. called the love drug.

Last week in the New York Times LSD, Reconsidered for Therapy

On Tuesday, The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease is posting online results from the first controlled trial of LSD in more than 40 years. The study, conducted in the office of a Swiss psychiatrist near Bern, tested the effects of the drug as a complement to talk therapy for 12 people nearing the end of life, including Peter.

Most of the subjects had terminal cancer, and several died within a year after the trial — but not before having a mental adventure that appeared to have eased the existential gloom of their last days.

“Their anxiety went down and stayed down,” said Dr. Peter Gasser, who conducted the therapy and followed up with his patients a year after the trial concluded.

The new publication marks the latest in a series of baby steps by a loose coalition of researchers and fund-raisers who are working to bring hallucinogens back into the fold of mainstream psychiatry. Before research was banned in 1966 in the United States, doctors tested LSD’s effect for a variety of conditions, including end-of-life anxiety.
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Peter, the social worker, agreed. “I will say I have been more emotional since the study ended, and I don’t mean always cheerful,” he said. “But I think it’s better to feel things strongly — better to be alive than to merely function.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at March 19, 2014 1:36 PM | Permalink