For some families, having a loved one enter palliative care is the point where the hopes and dreams of recovery begin to make way for the grim reality of impending death.
Palliative care is a family-centered model of care that is focused on a patient’s level of comfort and overall quality of life.
One aspect of providing this comfort is managing the anxiety and fear that can come with a patient who is approaching death.
And a new trial beginning in Melbourne this April is taking a step into a very new realm in order to combat some of the issues that people in palliative care currently face.
St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne will be treating dying patients with psychedelic synthetic mushrooms in a medical trial designed to ease the anxiety being experienced by those in palliative care.
In a statement found on the St Vincent’s Hospital website regarding the use of the drug, it stated that “the mind-bending drugs are hoped to give terminally ill patients a new perspective on their lives, guided by psychiatrists to remove the fear and depression which can often take over their final months.”
The trial itself has taken more than a year in order to gain approval but eventually managed to gain approval from both state and federal authorities, as well as ethics committees.
The drug psilocybin will be used to treat 30 patients at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital when the trial kicks off this April, with all applicants for the trial facing a rigorous screening process before being able to take part.
All applicants will require a permit from the state government in order to take the new medication and will be monitored closely by two clinicians on the day of dosing.
“Up to three in 10 palliative care patients can experience extreme distress in their final months,” according to the statement on St Vincent’s website, and managing this distress can be quite an ordeal for both the patient and their loved ones.
A statement from St Vincent’s clinical psychologist Dr. Margaret Ross said that the study would see patients given a single dose of psilocybin, which is so powerful it can unlock a section of a patient’s brains to give them an altered outlook on their situation approaching death.
Psilocybin itself is a naturally occurring psychedelic prodrug compound that is found in over 200 species of mushrooms and is said to induce feelings of euphoria and wellbeing, it is also known to positively influence mood and perception.
While initially the sound of utilising magic mushrooms in order to deal with emotional issues of dying patients may be jarring, the fact of the matter is that a positive change in perspective may be all that stands in the way between a patient and some much-needed comfort in their last days.
It is believed that a single dose of this drug has the ability to lessen or stave off the crippling effects of anxiety, fear, and depression for up to 6 months, and will be used to reduce these symptoms in patients who are not responding to other forms of treatment.
And when it comes to the wellbeing of those in their final moments of life, we should be willing to explore every available option that could have a positive bearing on their level of comfort.