Psychedelics and end-of-life anxiety

Death is something we all have in common. Although we all think about death to different degrees and for different reasons, it’s something that ties us together. We can all empathise with a fear of death, even if most of us have not had to face it as starkly as others.

People suffering from life-threatening diseases have perhaps the most traumatic relationship with death. Knowing you have only months or weeks to live must produce an existential crisis of enormous intensity. In many patients, this can mean anxiety and depression 1, and can make the last part of their lives also one of the most distressing.


Unsurprisingly, psychiatrists and therapists have turned to the classic psychedelics, including LSD and psilocybin, as a potential salve for end-of-life anxiety. Psychiatrists have known for half a century that these psychedelics can provide a new perspective on life, and result in meaningful and spiritual experiences. Early studies from the 60s and 70s suggested that psychedelics could reduce end-of-life anxiety, and help terminal cancer patients come to terms with their death.

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Why isn’t cycling illegal?

Cycling enthusiasts are all over the place these days… donning their questionable lycra outfits at ungodly hours to fly through the standstill rush-hour traffic, saturating our cities with bright neon colours and flashing lights. Maybe some people don’t really get the appeal… but to many, cycling is fun, it makes them happy, and it benefits their lives in loads of ways.

It’s not without its risks of course, but so are many things in life. We get around those risks by wearing helmets, lights and fluorescent jackets. The government builds us cycle paths and spends money on education and awareness. Overall it’s a pretty good system; people understand the risks and work hard to minimise them. And people have a great time cycling.


Let’s say the government becomes unhappy with the numbers of cycling-related injuries and deaths. They respond by increasing their campaigns of safety-awareness, introducing new regulations to keep cyclists safe on the roads, and build better, safer cycle paths. Maybe they even pedestrianise city centres! I think most people agree that this is a pretty rational reaction.

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Could LSD cure society’s problem with alcohol?

Alcohol abuse is one of the biggest health problems in the EU. Alcohol is highly addictive, highly toxic, and does unrivalled damage to society. In men aged 16-54, alcohol is the number one killer in the UK 1. In 2012, the UK saw over a million hospital admissions due to alcohol. Alcohol abuse currently costs EU countries around €125 billion a year – over 1% of these countries’ GDPs. In 2010, Professor David Nutt and a panel of experts ranked alcohol as the most harmful drug in the country, in terms of both its harm to users and others 2. Alcohol addiction is powerful, dangerous and deadly.


Ironically, hope for treating alcoholism could lie in a drug that the UK Home Office regards as one of the most dangerous in existence; LSD. After its discovery as a psychedelic drug in the 1960s, LSD was used by therapists who thought its effects could help treat problems like depression and addiction 3. When LSD was classed as an illegal drug, its use in therapy dwindled, and research into its potentially healing properties was stifled.

Although LSD research is still possible today, it’s extremely expensive and highly restricted; costs increase tenfold compared to trials on unrestricted compounds, and jumping the necessary hurdles can take many years. Before LSD was made illegal, a considerable amount of research was published in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, when it was still easy to obtain and therapists were convinced of its medical value. Recently, two scientists decided to look back on six of these studies to see if there is really any merit in using LSD as a treatment for alcoholism 4.

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