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Psilocybin and Near Death Anxiety: How it Helped People with Cancer

Representation of traditional use of magic mushrooms in various cultures.

What Is Psilocybin?

Psilocybin is a substance found in certain mushrooms, often called “magic mushrooms.” It’s like a special ingredient that can make people see and feel things in a different way. Scientists are exploring how it can help people who are feeling scared or sad.

A Long Journey from Nature to Medicine

People from different cultures have been using these magic mushrooms for a long time to help with their feelings and spiritual experiences. Recently, scientists have started looking at how these mushrooms might be used as medicine to make people who are frightened or sad about an incurable diagnosis feel better.

Being Afraid of Death: A Common Feeling

What Is the Fear of Dying?

The fear of dying is something that most people feel at some point in their lives. It’s when you’re really scared and worried about the idea of not being alive anymore. Imagine if you were playing your favorite game, spending time with your family, or enjoying ice cream on a sunny day, and then you thought about all of that just disappearing. That’s what the fear of dying feels like – being afraid that all the things you love and enjoy will go away, and you won’t be here to experience them anymore.

This fear can make you feel sad, anxious, and sometimes even very scared. It’s like a big, dark cloud that hangs over you, making it hard to enjoy the good moments in life. It’s perfectly normal to feel this way because, after all, life is a precious and wonderful thing, and nobody wants it to end.

Conceptual image of life's pleasures overshadowed by the fear of death.

Why Do People Feel Afraid of Dying?

There are many reasons why people feel afraid of dying. One big reason is that we don’t know for sure what happens after we die. It’s a big mystery. Some people believe in an afterlife or heaven, where they might go after they die, but nobody knows for sure. So, the uncertainty of what happens next can be really scary.

Also, people might be worried about leaving their loved ones behind. You might think about your family, friends, and even your pets. It’s natural to worry about how they will manage without you. This fear can be like a heavy weight on your heart because you care about the people you leave behind.

Facing the Fear of Dying

The fear of dying is something that most people will experience at some point, but there are ways to cope with it. Talking to someone you trust, like a parent, teacher, or counselor, can help. They can listen to your feelings and provide support. Now, however, scientists have discovered that psilocybin often greatly lowers the fear by expanding their awareness and helping people feel connected to nature.

Taking a Look at Near-Death Experiences

What Are Near-Death Experiences (NDEs)?

Near-death experiences, or NDEs, are like incredible stories that some people tell when they’ve been very close to dying but somehow manage to come back. Imagine if you were in a situation where you felt like you were almost at the end of your life, like maybe a very close call in an accident or when you’re very, very sick. During these moments, some people have experiences that are quite extraordinary.

The Adventure of NDEs

Now, what makes these experiences so special is that, during NDEs, some people say they feel a sense of peace and calm. It’s like all the worries and fears just disappear. They might describe seeing really bright and beautiful things, kind of like a magical light. This light can be so dazzling that it feels like a dream. And sometimes, people even talk about meeting their loved ones who have passed away. It’s like having a family reunion, but in a place that’s not quite here or there.

Changing How People Think About Life and Death

These near-death experiences can be life-changing because they make people think differently about life and what happens when we die. Imagine if you were really scared of the dark, and then one day, you discover that there’s nothing scary in the dark at all. It’s like that – NDEs can take away some of the fear and mystery about what comes after life. People who’ve had these experiences often come back feeling more positive, less scared of dying, and believing that there’s something really amazing waiting for us when our time on Earth is over. It’s like finding a new chapter in the big book of life, and it makes the world feel like a more hopeful and exciting place.

How Psilocybin Connects with Near-Death Experiences

A Special Study by Johns Hopkins Medicine

In a study done at Johns Hopkins University School in August 2022, they found that the way these mushrooms affect people is similar to the feelings reported by those who had near-death experiences. It’s like these mushrooms give people a taste of what it’s like when they go through something almost like dying.

Visual depiction of the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the afterlife.

Feeling Similar to Near-Death Experiences

What they found in this study was pretty amazing. It turns out that when people take these special mushrooms, they feel a little like how people describe feeling when they’ve been really close to dying, but then they didn’t. This feeling is called a near-death experience. It’s like having an adventure without actually leaving the world.

Mushrooms Giving a Peek into the Near-Death Feeling

So, when people take these mushrooms, it’s a bit like they get a sneak peek into what it might be like to have an adventure almost like dying. It’s not the same, but it’s a little similar. Imagine watching a movie trailer that gives you a taste of what the whole movie is about. These mushrooms are like the movie trailer for the feeling of almost dying, and it’s something that scientists are still learning more about.

A Glance at the Study

In the Johns Hopkins University study, they worked with 51 people who had cancer and were feeling really sad and worried. They wanted to find out if these magic mushrooms could make them feel happier and less scared.

How the Study Worked

The study was like a secret experiment. No one, not even the doctors or the patients, knew who was getting the real mushroom treatment and who was getting a pretend one (kind of like a sugar pill). They did this to make sure the results were fair and not influenced by what people thought.

The patients were split into two groups. One group got a small, almost inactive dose of the magic mushroom (the pretend one), and the other group got a strong, real dose of the mushroom. Each person took their treatment two times, with a five-week break in between. The doctors watched and talked to them for six months to see how they were doing.

The Magic of Psilocybin

Artistic interpretation of near-death experiences and their peaceful nature.

The scientists discovered something really amazing. You see, the people who got the real magic mushrooms felt so much happier and less worried. It was like a big weight lifted off their shoulders. The doctors and the patients themselves agreed that it made them feel better. It’s kind of like when you have a bad day, and then suddenly something great happens, and all your worries go away.

Now, these magical mushrooms didn’t stop there. They didn’t just make people less sad, but they also made their lives look brighter. It’s like when you draw a picture with lots of colorful crayons. These mushrooms gave people hope, which is like believing that good things are going to happen. And guess what? They weren’t as scared of the idea of dying anymore. It’s as if the mushrooms whispered to them, “Don’t worry; there’s something beautiful waiting for you.”

Feeling Better for a Long Time

The good news is that the effects of the mushrooms lasted a long time. Even after six months, most of the patients still felt much less sad and worried. They also felt better about their lives, themselves, and their relationships. That’s like a magic touch that stayed with them.

No Scary Side Effects

Sometimes, when we take medicine, we worry about side effects. However, in this study, there were no serious bad effects from taking psilocybin. Some patients felt sick and threw up, but it went away. Some also felt uncomfortable emotionally, but that feeling was temporary, like a passing cloud. Only a few patients had moments when their blood pressure went up a little, but they didn’t need any special medical help. One patient felt a bit paranoid like they were really suspicious of things, and one had a mild headache. The stronger effects on blood pressure and mood only lasted for a few hours.

More Studies

In another study done at a place called NYU Langone Health, scientists also looked at how one dose of psilocybin helped people with cancer. They found something really interesting. This medicine was like a one-time superhero dose, and it made people feel better not just for a little while, but for a really long time. Imagine if you ate a piece of cake, and it made you feel happy for years – that’s kind of how this medicine worked.

A Glimpse into the Mystery of the Mind

So, when people have near-death experiences or use this medicine, it’s like they open a door to a place where the mind gets really curious and starts exploring. It’s kind of like going on an exciting adventure, and scientists are like the explorers of the mind, trying to understand how it all works.

The Happy Ending

In the end, the study showed that cancer patients who took psilocybin felt better for a long time. The patients, the doctors, and other people who were watching the study all agreed that the medicine’s effects lasted at least 6 months. About 78% of the patients had less depression, and about 83% had less anxiety, according to the doctors.

Comparison of psilocybin effects to near-death experiences in a clinical study.


So, when people have near-death experiences or use this medicine, it’s like they open a door to a place where the mind gets really curious and starts exploring. It’s kind of like going on an exciting adventure, and scientists are like the explorers of the mind, trying to understand how it all works.


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