Dying patients at a Melbourne hospital will be treated with magic mushrooms in a controversial trial aimed at reducing anxiety about death among terminally ill patients.
Under the St Vincent’s Hospital trial, which has taken more than a year to be approved by the ethics committee and federal and state authorities, the 30 patients will be treated in April this year.
Clinical psychologist Dr Margaret Ross said patients would be given a single dose of synthetic psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in mushrooms, which can unlock a section of the brain, giving people an altered outlook on their situation as they approach death.
One dose can last for six months or more.
Late last year, researchers from Johns Hopkins University in the United States found that a majority of people suffering from cancer-related anxiety or depression had significant relief after taking a single, large does of psilocybin.
Six months after the study, 80 per cent of the 51 patients analysed showed significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety, while about 60 per cent showed symptoms in the normal range.
The trial also found that participants had an increased quality of life, with 83 per cent reporting increases in wellbeing and 67 per cent reporting that the experience was one of the top five meaningful experiences in their lives.
During the trial, the drug was only given in controlled environments and under the observation of two clinically-trained monitors and the researchers did not recommend using the drug in an outside setting.
According to St Vincent’s Hospital, three in every 10 palliative care patients can experience extreme distress in their final months.