Anxiety refers to feelings of unease and fear that are out of proportion to a particular situation, or arise at the thought of a threat or something going wrong in the future. The resulting thoughts and behaviour patterns can make living a normal life extremely difficult. Anxiety disorders are among the most common forms of mental illness, with lifetime prevalence estimated to be as high as 30%.

People diagnosed with terminal illness, such as cancer, often face psychological, spiritual, or existential crises. Studies on terminal cancer patients in the 1950s and 1960s found that those who had a transcendent or transpersonal experience during a psychedelic treatment session also had the most dramatic subsequent reduction in anxiety, improved mood, and better overall quality of life.

Building on the literature from the 50s and 60s, which suggested that psychedelics might be effective in treating anxiety, our Programme investigates the effectiveness of:

LSD for end-of-life anxiety

In 2008, we co-sponsored a MAPS-led trial, conducted by Dr Peter Gasser, which was the first study to use LSD in patients since prohibition. As the first LSD study approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 40 years, it put the drug’s medical potential back in the spotlight. The study demonstrated that LSD paired with psychotherapy alleviated end-of-life anxiety in patients suffering from terminal illnesses. In each study session, patients were assisted by therapists, who walked them through their psychedelic experience. Patients reported no prolonged negative effects of the drug, and the 200 ug dose was associated with profound positive effects in alleviating anxiety. At 1-year follow-up, patients reported that their reduced anxiety levels were maintained, and identified no harmful side-effects.

Other Trials (not part of the Beckley Scientific Programme)

A similar study to our LSD trial showed that psilocybin could also help cancer sufferers make sense of and cope with their predicament. For this study, Dr Charles Grob at UCLA gained FDA approval to assess the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in the treatment of anxiety in cancer patients. The next phase of the study (Phase II) involves higher doses and larger groups, and just concluded at Johns Hopkins University and NYU.

Studies have also investigated MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with life-threatening illness, and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety secondary to advanced stage cancer.

Finally, a MAPS-sponsored trial is underway to assess the safety and feasibility of MDMA-assisted therapy to treat social anxiety in autistic adults.

"Existential distress at the end of life bears many of the psychological hallmarks of a hyperactive default-mode network, including excessive self-reflection and an inability to jump the deepening grooves of negative thought. The ego, faced with the prospect of its own dissolution, becomes hypervigilant, withdrawing its investment in the world and other people. It is striking that a single psychedelic experience—an intervention that Carhart-Harris calls “shaking the snow globe”—should have the power to alter these patterns in a lasting way".
Michael Pollan

Link to Michael Pollan’s article “The Trip Treatment”


LSD-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with a life-threatening disease: A qualitative study of acute and sustained subjective effects

Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2015

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Safety and efficacy of lysergic acid diethylamide-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with life-threatening diseases

The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 2014

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