Australian patients in palliative care will be treated with psychedelic synthetic magic mushrooms under a new medical trial, St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne announced on Tuesday.
The use of the mushrooms is intended to ease the paralysing anxiety many patients in palliative care experience towards the end of their life. According to a statement from St Vincent’s Hospital, the mind-bending drugs could give terminally ill patients a new perspective on their lives and will be guided by psychiatrists to remove the fear and depression that are often experienced when people enter the final months of their lives.
It has taken more than a year for the trial to gain approval by the ethics committees and federal and state authorities, but the first 30 patients will be treated with the mushrooms at St Vincent’s Hospital from April.
During the study, patients will be given a single dose of psilocybin – a naturally occurring psychedelic prodrug compound found in some mushrooms. The compound is so powerful it can unlock sections of the brain to give patients an altered outlook on their situation as they approach death.
The effects can last for more than six months and will help the 30 per cent of palliative care patients who experience extreme distress in their final months of living. Speaking to 3AW breakfast, St Vincent’s clinical psychologist Dr Margaret Ross explained that the mushrooms would be an alternative to treatments already available to patients.
“It’s really for our patients who are not responding to our current treatment,” Ross explained. “So things like our current psychotherapies and medications, many people do respond to those treatments but there are those that don’t and what that means is they go on continuing to experience the stress and spend the remaining time they do have feeling terrified and deeply anguished.”
Current treatments available to patients in end-of-life care include antidepressant therapies and anti-anxiety medication, but Ross explained there can be non-compliance in patients and treatments can cause side effects and also interact with other medication and treatments.
She also noted that the mushrooms would not leave people feeling doped out and that patients would be conscious and aware of what was going on around them.
“You are probably more heightened. You’re exquisitely sensitive to your environment, what’s going on around you, which is why it’s important you’ve got a really controlled setting,” she explained. “It’s certainly not a doped out feeling, that’s for sure, but it can really promote an enriching and beneficial experience for people.”
Recruitment for the trial is expected to commence in March and April. Those interested in becoming a trial participant can express their interest by contacting [email protected]