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Four out of five support psilocybin for end of life care

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Nearly four out of five Canadians believe that the use of the hallucinogen psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms, is an acceptable medical approach to treat existential distress in patients suffering from a serious and incurable disease.

This is the main conclusion of an online survey of 2,800 adults conducted by a research team led by Michel Dorval, professor at Université Laval’s Faculty of Pharmacy and researcher at the CHU de Québec-Université Laval Research Center.

The findings are published in the journal Palliative Medicine.

Dorval said: “Studies have already shown that psilocybin, combined with psychotherapy, produces rapid, robust and lasting anxiolytic and antidepressant effects in patients suffering from advanced cancer.

“This substance can bring about a profound awareness that leads the patient to view existence from a different perspective.

“Treatment with psilocybin, combined with psychotherapy, can produce relief for up to six months.”

Canadian law currently prohibits the production, possession or sale of psilocybin.

But since January 2022, a special access programme has made it possible to obtain an exemption from Health Canada for medical or scientific reasons.

A doctor can apply on behalf of a patient if psychotherapy, antidepressants or anxiolytics have failed, or if the individual’s condition requires urgent intervention.

Researchers surveyed 1,000 residents of Québec and 1,800 residents of Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia to find out their opinion on the potential easing of rules surrounding the medical use of psilocybin.

Analysis of their answers shows that 79 per cent of respondents consider psilocybin-assisted therapy a reasonable medical choice to treat existential distress in patients at the end of life.

Support for psilocybin is higher among respondents who have already been exposed to palliative care, the survey found.

Dorval said: “Having been close to loved ones at the end of life, or having witnessed their distress, could explain this openness to new approaches designed to help people at this stage of their life.”

Support is also higher among respondents who have already used psilocybin, Dorval noted.

He said: “There are still many prejudices against psychedelic substances.

“Familiarity with these substances probably helps to better understand their true effects as well as their therapeutic potential.”

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