Can psychoactive plants help terminally ill patients?

By Patrick Bailey

Changing Attitudes Toward Psychedelics Benefit the Terminally Ill

The prejudices of yesterday do not have the same hold on people today. Psychoactive drugs have a long history of negative publicity and incredibly Draconian law enforcement practices. The most common one is cannabis, but the current generation of Americans coming of age has used it for years, mostly without ill effects beyond the legal.

Cannabis production is now one of the largest industries in the US, of varying legality but near-ubiquitous availability. Other psychedelics are being tested for psychotherapeutic purposes and end-of-life care.

As the generation that came of age on psychoactive drugs faces the consequences of aging, a popular social movement is applying these arguably harmless and beneficial products to ease the suffering of the terminally ill.

Changing Attitudes Towards End-of-Life Decisions

As humans approach the end of their natural lifespans, they become less concerned with societal norms and legal punishments. Questions of significance and spirituality loom larger, as does their comfort and well-being when they succumb to a terminal illness.

Frankly, if a chemical can ease the spiritual anguish of a person about to die, then it is inhumane to refuse it to them.

Recent research has confirmed what the vast majority of living Americans already believed: at least some psychoactive drugs are physiologically safe, with few lingering physical effects. Even if they had such effects, that would be of minor importance to the terminally ill.

In August, federal health minister Patty Hajdu granted four terminally ill Canadians a Section 56 exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Therapsil, a B.C.-based nonprofit, helped each of the individuals apply for the exemptions, which took more than 100 days to receive. Since then, the organization reports that two more exemptions have been granted. In September, the response rate was 10 business days.

Psychoactive drugs frequently have psychological benefits. LSD has proven efficacious in treating end-of-life anxiety and alcohol use disorder.

Cannabis, the psychoactive drug referred to most often, is a special case in the world of palliative care. Its psychoactive effects are mild and it has a host of physical effects that are very helpful to the terminally ill.

The barriers between Americans and psychoactive use are almost entirely societal and legal. The terminally ill have little concern for social pressure and a blasé attitude towards the threat of imprisonment, so there is little reason for them to eschew such treatment.

Those who experiment are extremely enthusiastic about the results.

What Can Natural Psychoactives Accomplish for the Terminally Ill?

The benefits of many psychoactive drugs are well-accepted anecdotally. Scientific researchers have codified and rigidly delineate these effects.

Broadly speaking, psychoactive drugs are known to stir feelings of joy and acceptance in even the most difficult times. They appear to make people take a more philosophical view of life and the world around them, fostering thoughts of community and spirituality that greatly ease fears of death and the anxiety surrounding the end of life.

Psychoactive drugs are safe for most patients, under proper medical supervision; even rehab centres for alcoholics have experimented with hallucinogenic treatments. However, caution is advised.

Some hallucinogens, especially strong ones, may cause temporary stomach upset. Cannabis is perfectly safe for those with difficult digestive issues and often soothes digestive upset and helps bring back the appetite in even the sickest patients. Psilocybin mushrooms are not.

By the same token, smoking cannabis is harmful to those with serious lung conditions, but ingesting it is not. Neither are other psychoactive drugs. Consult with a physician or other health professional, if one can be found of sufficient open-mindedness. If not, the Internet contains an abundance of anecdotal evidence on any given psychoactive chemical.

Death is upsetting, but it is a part of life. The approach of death brings with it all the fear and terror that any human being can feel, and anything that ameliorates these terrible emotions and eases the passage into eternity is to be treasured.

Psychoactive drugs are tremendously helpful to those on the precipice of death. Misinformation and society’s prejudices have kept many from available comfort and clarity for so long.

As we move into the future, it is time to put these ancient errors behind us and help our loved ones, and, eventually, ourselves, depart from this life as positively and joyfully as possible.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We advise readers to always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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