Psychedelic drugs change outlook on life as much as near-death experiences

BALTIMORE — Near-death experiences often change how someone views the world. In many cases, the person who “cheats death” ends up overcoming their fear of dying in the future. Now, a new study has found something that can mimic this life-altering experience — psychedelic drugs.

A team from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine compared the differences in people’s attitudes about death after a psychedelic drug experience versus a near-death experience not involving drugs. Overall, they analyzed survey data from 3,192 people who spoke with researchers after one of these events. Specifically, the study examined the attitudes of 933 people who had a near-death experience and 2,259 people who used psychedelic drugs to have a similar experience.

For interviews involving psychedelic drug experiences, the participants either used lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), ayahuasca, or N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) to trigger their psychedelic episode.

Psychedelics can reduce fear of death

Results reveal a strong similarity between these groups in terms of how the experiences lowered their fear of death. Most participants in both groups also said their experience was one of the most “personally meaningful and spiritually significant” of their entire lives. However, survey participants in the near-death group were more likely to rate this experience as their single most life-changing event. Conversely, participants in the psychedelic group were more likely to say this “drug trip” was one of many similar experiences.

Study authors note that many of the questions in this survey were typical questions researchers ask when measuring mystical and near-death experiences. Interestingly, people who used psychedelics actually rated higher in these “out-of-body” measures than those who cheated death without drugs.

Moreover, those who used ayahuasca or DMT say the lasting consequences of their experience were stronger and more positive than those who used LSD or mushrooms. Study authors believe their findings could help scientists testing psychedelics as clinical treatments for mood disorders and other psychiatric conditions — including end-of-life anxiety.

“Not only can the features of psychedelic experiences be similar to Near Death Experiences, both are rated as among the most meaningful lifetime experiences and both produce similar enduring decreases in fear of death and increases in well-being,” concludes researcher Roland Griffiths in a media release.

The findings appear in the journal PLOS ONE.

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