Sunday, 15 March 2015

#650 Effective Management for Existential Distress ??

     A life of generosity, ethical living & ideally, a longstanding deep meditation practice, seems to be one of the ideal ways to access & embody profoundly meaningful, transformative insight & evolve or mature spiritually. Such maturity generally includes facing death with calm composure (equanimity).

     However, for many in our secular society, who spend their lives focused mostly on material concerns, the possibility remains open for having profound transformative spiritual experiences, even at the end of life, via medically-supervised psychedelic drugs, in palliative care settings.

     "under the influence of the (psilocybin), 'individuals transcend their primary identification with their bodies and experience ego-free states . . . and return with a new perspective and profound acceptance.'
     ... cancer patients receiving just a single dose of psilocybin experienced immediate and dramatic reductions in anxiety and depression, improvements that were sustained for at least six months.
     Researchers are using or planning to use psilocybin not only to treat anxiety, addiction (to smoking and alcohol), and depression but also to study the neurobiology of mystical experience, which the drug, at high doses, can reliably occasion.
     “People don’t realize how few tools we have in psychiatry to address existential distress. Xanax isn’t the answer. So how can we not explore this, if it can recalibrate how we die?”
     “When administered under supportive conditions,” the paper concluded, “psilocybin occasioned experiences similar to spontaneously occurring mystical experiences.” Participants ranked these experiences as among the most meaningful in their lives, comparable to the birth of a child or the death of a parent. Two-thirds of the participants rated the psilocybin session among the top five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives; a third ranked it at the top. Fourteen months later, these ratings had slipped only slightly.
     Furthermore, the “completeness” of the mystical experience closely tracked the improvements reported in personal well-being, life satisfaction, and “positive behavior change” measured two months and then fourteen months after the session.
     A follow-up study ... found that the psilocybin experience also had a positive and lasting effect on the personality of most participants. This is a striking result, since the conventional wisdom in psychology holds that personality is usually fixed by age thirty and thereafter is unlikely to substantially change. But more than a year after their psilocybin sessions volunteers who had had the most complete mystical experiences showed significant increases in their “openness,” one of the five domains that psychologists look at in assessing personality traits. (The others are conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.) Openness, which encompasses aesthetic appreciation, imagination, and tolerance of others’ viewpoints, is a good predictor of creativity.
     “I don’t want to use the word ‘mind-blowing,’ ” Griffiths told me, “but, as a scientific phenomenon, if you can create conditions in which seventy per cent of people will say they have had one of the five most meaningful experiences of their lives? To a scientist, that’s just incredible.”
     ... William James ... suggested that we judge the mystical experience not by its veracity, which is unknowable, but by its fruits: does it turn someone’s life in a positive direction?"
       Michael Pollan "The Trip Treatment." Annals of Medicine, The New Yorker Magazine, Feb 9, 2015 

     Listen to Mary Hines' March 12, 2015 interview: "Psychologist Anthony Bossis: Can psychedelic drugs help ease the fear of death?"

Lilly J Warren

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