A new Johns Hopkins Medicine survey found psychedelic use may mitigate fears in people afraid of death and dying.
A number of studies have explored psychedelics’ impact on mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. And a number have explored near death experiences. But this is the first time the two have been compared.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine surveyed more than 3,000 adults who had either had a near-death experience that was not drug-related, and those who had taken psychedelics. The researchers note that both groups reported a decreased fear of death and dying after their experience with the effect have a spiritual and lasting impact. The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The data was taken from an online survey that collected user information between 2015 and 2018. Of the surveyed individuals, 933 had near-death experiences. The rest had psychedelic experience with substances including LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, or DMT.
“Not only can the features of psychedelic experiences be similar to near-death experiences,” Roland Griffiths, a study author and professor at Johns Hopkins, said in a statement, but, he says, “both are rated as among the most meaningful lifetime experiences, and both produce similar enduring decreases in fear of death and increases in well-being.”
According to the results, 90 percent of participants in both groups said they experienced a decrease in their fear of death after the experience. Nearly as many reported the near-death or psychedelic experience as one of the most meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives. They also reported prolonged changes in their personal wellbeing and life purpose.
But those who had not experienced psychedelics reported a higher feeling that their life was in danger—47 percent compared to just three percent of psychedelic users. They also reported their experiences as being more brief, under five minutes, compared with psychedelic substance users.
The results mirror findings in clinical trials on psilocybin—the active compound in certain types of mushrooms—that have shown prolonged decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety in cancer patients. Johns Hopkins conducted the largest psychedelic study of its kind on cancer patients, and found that high doses of psilocybin along with psychotherapy decreased anxiety and increased death acceptance.
The findings build on a growing body of research and anecdotal evidence that support psychedelic therapy. Most recently, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers revealed he participated in several ayahuasca ceremonies in an effort to heal personal and family trauma. Former NFL quarterback Jake Plummer said he “saw god” while on psilocybin mushrooms. He now grows and sells functional mushrooms.
Last week, another study found just two doses of psilocybin along with psychotherapy reduced heavy alcohol consumption compared with a placebo group. Within eight months, those subjects who were given psilocybin reduced their drinking by 83 percent compared to 51 percent in the placebo group. Nearly half—48 percent—who experienced the psilocybin had quit alcohol altogether. It was half as much for the placebo group.
“Our findings strongly suggest that psilocybin therapy is a promising means of treating alcohol use disorder, a complex disease that has proven notoriously difficult to manage,” says study senior author and psychiatrist Michael P. Bogenschutz, MD, director of NYU Langone’s Center for Psychedelic Medicine.
“As research into psychedelic treatment grows, we find more possible applications for mental health conditions,” said Dr. Bogenschutz. “Beyond alcohol use disorder, this approach may prove useful in treating other addictions such as cigarette smoking and abuse of cocaine and opioids.”
The findings are published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.