Psychedelics Offer A New Mode Of Grief Therapy, But There’s A Catch

Psychedelics are used to seek insight during life — and help people accept death. More and more families mourning the loss of a loved one are turning to psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (PAP), Hospice News reports. PAP involves the use of psychedelics, such as psilocybin, ayahuasca, LSD, and MDMA, to comfort those grappling with extended periods of grief.

“This transformative experience can enable individuals to tap into feelings of connectedness, both with others and with a transcendent aspect of themselves,” chief science officer at Filament Health Corp, Ryan Moss told Hospice News. Filament Health Corp is a clinical-stage natural psychedelic drug development company based in British Columbia, Canada.“This can result in the emergence of positive, prosocial emotions and attitudes like joy, gratitude, love, care and compassion. Those who undergo challenging or distressing experiences during their psychedelic journeys may see their grief worsen. This underscores the importance of receiving proper therapeutic guidance when embarking on a psychedelic experience, as an unguided challenging experience could potentially be harmful for someone already dealing with grief.”

According to Moss, those embarking on PAP therapy do so in a structured process that involves weeks of preparation before the session occurs. A physician and a therapist typically guide these sessions to help with integration and support during the psychedelic experience. And don’t forget about after-care. The health professionals stick with their clients to offer several weeks of sessions following the trip.

Moss says this structure is “the most effective” in terms of addressing grief while noting that the therapy is still in its early stages and that more research is needed. “Additional clinical investigations are necessary to clarify the effectiveness of PAP as a treatment for individuals dealing with prolonged grief [and] PAP’s potential to aid in the management of various psychological conditions and disorders,” Moss said. “However, the inherent risks associated with these substances underline the imperative need for more comprehensive data on its efficacy.”

So far, most research into the use of psychedelics for addressing life’s darkness regards anxiety, PTSD, and depression. For example, one study in Neuropsychopharmacology found that 37% of participants in a psilocybin therapy trial experienced “meaningful responses” in managing their depression. So can the same effects aid grief? A few studies indicate yes.

For example, a 2023 study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs focused on 363 adult users of psychedelics who were grieving. The study found that 42% reported a reduction in complicated grief symptoms after two weeks. However, this wasn’t universal. Some participants had “challenging and converse” experiences — what sounds like a bad trip. But about half of those involved did feel better. These findings suggest a potential for psychedelic-assisted therapy in treating bereavement, one of life’s more difficult but unavoidable experiences. The researchers believe these therapies could “target symptoms of grief.”

Grief and depression can feel the same and lead to anxiety, anger, and sleeping issues, among other numerous comorbidities. The primary distinction lies in their duration and impact on one’s life. While grief is considered an intense emotional response, depression is a mental health diagnosis for when one experiences at least five of a long checklist of symptoms such as low mood, lack of interest in activities that you used to find enjoyable, and a sense of worthlessness or guilt, for at least two weeks. However, as anyone who’s lost a loved one understands, it doesn’t really matter what you call it. You’re having a hard time and need help getting through it.

Thankfully, there’s more than one study indicating that psychedelics can aid in this dark yet transformative form of your life, helping you process, and reminding you that the cloud can lift.

2020 research in Peru investigated how ayahuasca impacts depression in folks coping with grief. This study zeroed in on 50 individuals who participated in an indigenous Shipibo ayahuasca ceremony. They did this within a year after losing someone close to them. A whopping 78.4% of these participants reported that the ayahuasca experience had a direct and meaningful impact on their process of grieving, as noted in the findings published in Psychopharmacology, via Hospice News.

The study’s results pointed to a beneficial link between using ayahuasca and heightened levels of acceptance and mindfulness regarding emotions. The researchers accented this connection, suggesting that ayahuasca might be useful in developing a more mindful and accepting approach to processing grief-related emotions. However, the sample size of the study is quite small.

Moss is careful to note that figuring out how psychedelics affect people in grief is complicated – for some, these therapies are helpful and can ease them through their grief. But for others, it can actually make feelings of sadness and loss feel stronger, making their grief journey even tougher. However, there’s enough promise that he sees PAP as the future of mourning.

“It has been found that individuals who report having profound emotional breakthroughs during their psychedelic experiences tend to experience greater relief from the severity of their grief,” Moss told Hospice News. “One can envision a future in which patients struggling with prolonged grief might be recommended a PAP session by their health care provider or therapist. In this scenario, they could visit a specialized clinic where they would receive both the psychedelic substance and therapeutic support in a coordinated manner.”

General Inquiries

Investor Relations