Individuals who have survived a near-death experience (NDE) have long reported profound positive shifts in their perception of life, death, and dying often resulting in significant changes in their well-being, lifestyle, and relationships.
Psychedelic explorers also often report NDE-like experiences during psychedelic journeys that result in drastic changes to their perception of death and dying. Although participants' lives are rarely in real physical danger under the influence of psychedelics, it is not uncommon for psychonauts to experience psychological danger (often resulting from trauma) that presents itself as a near-death event. NDEs are psychological events that are set in motion when there is a perception of imminent death regardless of whether there is physical danger present or not.
The prevalence of these near-death events varies depending on the psychedelic substance. For example, the Peruvian brew, ayahuasca literally translates to "vine of the dead or "soul vine", referring to the common death experience associated with ingesting the brew.
John Hopkins researchers recently conducted a comparative survey study of NDEs without substances and NDEs experienced under the influence of psychedelics, they identified significant similarities in the participants' attitudes toward death. Participants in both groups reported having less fear of death and dying after the experience, as well as lasting positive effects associated with enhanced personal meaning, spiritual importance, and psychological insight.
The research included 3192 adults, 933 of whom had NDEs not related to substances and the rest were individuals who had reported NDEs under the influence of psilocybin, LSD, DMT, and ayahuasca.
Researchers found that about 90% of all participants reported a decrease in fear of death when comparing their perspectives before and after the experience, with a strong majority in both groups (85 % of the non-drug group, and 75% of the psychedelics group) indicating that the experience was among the top five most personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their life. All participants reported moderate to strong lasting positive changes to their individual well-being, life purpose, and meaning.
The table below highlights the notable similarities of shifts in perspective of death as reported by the two groups.
Table 7. Changes in death attitudes attributed to the experience among the Psychedelic Group and the Non-Drug Group.
A closer review of the results broken down by the type of substance further validates the findings of a previous study at John Hopkins that demonstrated the high efficacy of psilocybin-assisted therapy in reducing fear of death in patients with cancer.
A comparison of the reports from different psychedelic substances showed that ayahuasca and DMT groups were more likely to report stronger and more positive enduring consequences of the experience than the psilocybin and LSD groups.
Table 8. Changes in death attitudes attributed to the experience among the Non-Drug, Psilocybin, LSD, Ayahuasca, and DMT groups1,2.
Amongst reported differences in the two groups, the non-drug group was more likely to be clinically dead, medically unconscious, and also report that their life was in danger. There were also observed differences in the length of the NDE with 40% of the non-psychedelic group reporting a very brief, lasting five minutes or less as opposed to only 7% of the psychedelic group reporting a brief experience.
Table 4. Circumstances of the experience in the Non-Drug, Psilocybin, LSD, Ayahuasca, and DMT groups1,2.
Researchers concluded by highlighting the importance of further investment and research to explore the promising role of psychedelics in end-of-life care and alleviating suffering associated with fear of death and dying.