Stairway to Heaven: Psychedelics Soothe Dying

"We encourage them to go inward, to minimize the communication with us and enter the experience, even if it's something dark and difficult that comes before them," said Bossis. "We tell patients that no matter where they find themselves, they will return to a normal state of consciousness within six hours."

Two of the three patients in Nicky's group have already died. Both reported extraordinary experiences -- "a cleansing of the body and soul of grief and sadness and an increase in the acceptance of the disease and the dying process," according to Bossis.

The patients said they wanted to give back more -- financially or emotionally – and were able to reconnect with estranged friends and family members. Both were "peaceful and thankful," at the end, he said.

As for Nicky, the first hour of her psychedelic journey was awe-inspiring, but the second part was deeper and more emotional. At several points, she had to sit up and take off her eyeshades and seek the comfort of Ross and her other therapist.

"I became profoundly sad, and I actually had to sit up after 45 minutes and talk to them and I cried a lot," she said. "There was another scenario, then I went through the rest by myself."

In six hours, when it was all over, she stayed and analyzed her experience with the doctors.

"In therapy we had been working on my top five [issues with death or family]," she said. "During my experience, I reordered the hierarchy of issues to lead a more authentic life emotionally. I didn't realize my number four was actually number one."

"It was such an enormous gift," said Nicky. "It's really amazing that a king's ransom arrived at my door step."

Today, Nicky said she would take psilocybin again -- "in a New York minute." She continues her therapy at NYU and will go on a drug trial soon for late-stage ovarian cancer. She also hopes that her openness about the psychedelic experience will help others.

"I don't think people should be so afraid of something that could be so helpful when you are nearing the end of life," she said. "I had huge insight into my head. I can still conjure it up and I tried for very long to relive it -- it was breathtaking."

Nicky never expected to find God. "I didn't have that spiritual experience, but my dome was very close," she said. "When it opened up several times and let in the light, I would have thought it was my creator if I had been religious."

For more information on how to participate in the study, contact patient coordinator Krystallia Kalliontzi at 212-998-9252 or kk71@nyu.edu.

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