End-of-life care has long been one of the key areas of interest in psychedelic research. A recent randomized controlled trial study published in the ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science journal found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy reduced suicidal ideation (SI) and restored meaning for terminally ill cancer patients with the benefits lingering years beyond the treatment.
Patients with an advanced cancer diagnosis are at a high risk of suicidal ideation, attempt, and completion. These patients often report experiencing existential crises and a loss of meaning in life which predicts suicidal ideation and completion risks.
A group of scientists aimed to measure the impact of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy on 11 patients with an advanced cancer diagnosis who also presented with suicidal ideation (SI). Participants completed assessments to measure suicidal ideation, loss of meaning. demoralization, hopelessness, and spiritual well-being at the start of the study.
The group was then divided into study and control groups with the study group being administered psilocybin followed by niacin 7 weeks later, and the control group receiving niacin first followed by psilocybin 7 weeks later. The participants were then assessed in multiple follow-ups through their psychotherapy treatments. Assessments for suicidal ideation were taken 8 hours after dose 1, 2 weeks after dose 1, 7 weeks after dose 1, and 6.5 months after dose 2. Assessments for loss of meaning, hopelessness, and spiritual well-being, were taken 2 weeks after dose 1, 6.5 months after dose 2, and 3.2 years and 4.5 years after baseline.
The test group who received psilocybin first reported a significant drop in suicidal ideation and loss of meaning scores at every assessment point compared to their baseline prior to administration. The control group did not.
Another hopeful finding of this trial was that according to the follow-up assessments, the marked reduction in suicidal ideation (SI) and loss of meaning were still reported 6.5 months later, with reductions in loss of meaning maintained at the 3.2-year and 4.5-year assessments points. Below is a snapshot of the assessment results:
The researchers also found that the reductions in suicidal ideation were correlated with decreases in loss of meaning, hopelessness, and demoralization. The researchers highlight the opportunity for further studies to explore the potential link between "enhancing meaning making" and reductions in suicidal ideation amongst cancer patients.