Receiving a diagnosis of a terminal illness shakes the entire family. Many patients faced with the idea of dying, undergo a storm of emotions including fear, anxiety, and depression. All of which can drastically reduce the quality of life for patients who don’t have long to live, like Erinn Baldeschwiler.
Erinn, who is a 48-year-old woman with metastatic breast cancer, bravely shared her story in an interview with Time Magazine. At this point in Erinn’s journey, she understands there are no options that can save her life. However, knowing her time is so limited is making her last days alive full of fear and anxiety.
“The last thing I want is to be terrified and scared and anxious, especially when I pass,” Erinn told reporters at Time.
Although there are no medical treatments that can save her life, there are psychedelic medicines that may make her final time more pleasant. This is why Erinn, along with her palliative care physician and lawyer, is fighting for her right to access psilocybin.
Research on Psilocybin and End-of-Life Anxiety
Previous research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that psilocybin-assisted therapy “produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.”
In addition to reducing anxiety and depression, psilocybin “increases quality of life, life meaning, and optimism, and decreases in death anxiety. At 6-month follow-up, these changes were sustained, with about 80% of participants continuing to show clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety.”
The seemingly shocking discovery is that these positive results were sustained for six months after only one dose of psilocybin. There are no current pharmaceutical medications for anxiety or depression with such long-lasting results after just one dose.
Older research like this, along with new discoveries on the benefits of psilocybin, have prompted state and federal agencies to consider psychedelic medicines as viable treatment options. Utah’s Mental Illness Psychotherapy Drug Task Force is currently studying research on the mental health benefits of different alternative psychotherapeutic drugs. The FDA is anticipated to approve psilocybin for treating depression and MDMA for treating PTSD in the next two years.
Psilocybin and Patients with Terminal Illness
However, for patients with limited time, like Erinn Baldeschwiler, two years is too long.
“I’m going to be dead by then,” Erinn told Time Magazine. “It’s a time issue. If you could provide an option that would provide immediate, sustained relief of depression, anxiety, and lead to a sense of peace as [someone is] going through their final days—why would you not want that as an option?”
Unfortunately, Erinn’s story is a common one. Fear of our mortality is a universal human experience that we can all relate to. Luckily, we are currently in a historic time where research on psilocybin and other entheogens for mental health is moving fast, and showing positive results. Hopefully, patients like Erinn may find relief in their final days with access to psilocybin or other natural plant medicines in the near future.