Paper short abstract:
Research suggests psychedelics are effective in the treatment of end-of-life mood disturbance. Results are reported in ways that reduce the profound experience of participants to psychometrics and neurobiology. Anthropology may contribute the human and cultural aspects of dying to future studies.
Paper long abstract:
The reawakening of research into psychedelic substances reflects the Zeitgeist of modern Western science. Recent clinical trials utilise rigorous protocols, standardised evaluation measures, advanced technologies and neuroscientific reasoning (Dyck, 2018). Studies consistently demonstrate that psychedelics can be highly effective, safe, and efficient in the treatment of anxiety and depression in individuals with terminal illness (Reiche et. al., 2018). Mood disturbance is common in terminally-ill patients, and negatively impacts patients' quality of life (Gasser et.al., 2014). The results of recent psychedelic studies into end-of-life anxiety and depression are profound, especially given the time-limited nature of the intervention, and the deep existential issues faced by participants. The reporting of the results of the studies feels reductionist, somewhat inhuman, and non-reflective; focusing mostly on psychometric outcome scales and biochemical explanations. Questions regarding the meaning of death, the phenomenology of the experience, and what can be revealed about consciousness are not addressed. Contemporary anthropologists utilise ethnographic methods to study a variety of modern social forms - and the laboratories responsible for conducting this new psychedelic research are no exception (Hendy, 2018). This paper critically evaluates the protocols, outcomes, and theoretical explanations of the studies into psychedelic-assisted therapy for end-of-life anxiety and depression; highlighting the lack of reflective, phenomenological and cultural elements relevant to death and dying. A challenge for new research is to find harmony between rigor and reflection; to connect Western science and the humanities in the context of this unavoidable and increasingly prominent aspect of human nature (Dyck, 2018).
Death and paradise - no-one gets in alive: the anthropological re-imagining of psychedelic drug use