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Research: Psychedelics may diminish one's fear of death and dying

Both groups of survey respondents claimed to have less fear of dying and death as a result of the encounter.

Research: Psychedelics may diminish ones fear of death and dying
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BALTIMORE: Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine compared psychedelic experiences with non-drug-related near-death experiences in a survey study of more than 3,000 persons and discovered striking similarities in people's views toward death.

Both groups of survey respondents claimed to have less fear of dying and death as a result of the encounter. The encounter, they said, had a long-lasting positive impact by bringing them personal purpose, spiritual importance, and psychological understanding. The research was released in the PLOS ONE journal on August 24, 2022.

The findings are in line with a number of previous clinical trials that showed lasting improvements in anxiety and depression among cancer patients with a life-threatening diagnosis were achieved by a single dose of the psychedelic psilocybin.

The authors of this study carried out the largest of these experiments at Johns Hopkins Medicine (Griffiths et al., 2016). That study, a randomized trial involving 51 cancer patients with clinically significant anxiety or depressive symptoms, showed that receiving supportive psychotherapy along with a controlled, high dose of psilocybin significantly increased ratings of acceptance of death and decreased anxiety about death.

In the current study, 3,192 respondents to an online survey between December 2015 and April 2018 provided the researchers with data to examine. Groups of participants were formed, including the remaining participants who reported psychedelic experiences that were brought on by either lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) (904), psilocybin (766), ayahuasca (282) or N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), while 933 people had non-drug-related near-death experiences (307).

The majority of participants (80%) were white and from the United States. The psychedelic group had a higher percentage of men (78% vs. 32%) and younger average age (32 vs. 55) at the time of the event than the non-drug group.

Similarities between the groups include:

1. Approximately 90% of participants in both groups reported a decrease in dread of death when taking into account changes in their perspectives from before to after the encounter.

2. Participants in both groups reported moderate to strong persistent positive changes in their personal well-being and sense of purpose and meaning in life. (Psychedelics group: 75%; non-drug group: 85%) Participants in both groups rated the experience as among the top five most personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives.

Differences between the groups include:

1. The non-drug group was more likely to state that their life was in danger (47% vs. 3% for psychedelics), that they were medically unconscious (36% vs. 10% for psychedelics), or that they were clinically dead (21% vs. 1% for psychedelics).

2. The non-drug group was more likely to claim that their experience lasted five minutes or less than the psychedelics group (for which the difference was 40%). Future research is required, according to the researchers, in order to fully grasp the potential clinical benefits of psychedelics in the treatment of suffering caused by a fear of dying.

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