"We have demonstrated good safety parameters in using moderate doses [of psilocybin,]" said Grob. "We have safeguards, extensive screening of patients, and we are trying to make it as optimally safe as possible."
UCLA's double-blind study was conducted from 2004 to 2008 on mentally stable patients who were 18 to 70 years old. Grob and his team met with each patient beforehand to establish a good rapport and to examine each patient's goals and psychological difficulties.
"We essentially screen out people who have an unstable disposition and try to create an optimal therapeutic setting with trusting rapport," Grob explained.
Doctors administered treatment in two separate six-hour sessions, each spaced a few weeks apart. In one, patients were given placebos and the other, psilocybin. Neither the researchers nor the patients knew what pill they were taking.
The "trip" took place under full medical supervision in a warm, living room-style setting, with art books and soothing music. Patients hunkered down on a cozy sofa with eyeshades and headphones.
Therapists monitored physical reactions, such as blood pressure, and were there to offer support.
"We told them to go as deeply as possible," he said.
Afterward, patients deconstructed the trip with therapists. According to Grob, no patients experienced anxiety or adverse medical reactions.
Before treatment, Grob had asked Sakuda what she wanted to accomplish, and she told him her two goals. She wanted to get over the guilt she felt about leaving her husband -- to whom she'd been married for 28 years -- and she wanted to "go forward" with her life in the time she had left.
"She knew I was going to take it hard," said Litzinger, "but she was able to let go of the guilt about dying."
In her first session, it was obvious Sakuda received the psilocybin. Her husband was called in after three hours had elapsed.
"She had tears running down her face, tears of joy," said Litzinger. "She had an angelic glow around her and said, 'Oh, Norbie, I love you.' It was the first time I had seen joy in her face for two years. An incredible weight was lifted."
Another woman whose "trip" was slow to start told Grob she had been thinking about her father who had died many years before.
"She was crying that she had never been able to tell him how much she loved him," he said. "[Many patients] are doing the healing of old relationship injuries."
Grob said the therapy may work for several reasons, one of them "the sense that the soul will continue even beyond the demise of the physical."
As for Sakuda, she was actually able to "internalize" the change in attitude about her disease, according to her husband. "She realized it was not just a sentence with words. She felt it."
"She was truly joyous," he said. "She realized that she was allowing the fear of the future to destroy the present: Now, I am healthy, now I am happy and now I feel good."
As for Litzinger, the loss of his wife, his closest friend, whom he had known for 40 years, was, as she predicted, devastating.
"I have had tough time since Pam left," said Litzinger. "I am very busy with my work for the Heffter and I am building a house and putting one foot forward each morning."
But he said, "I would love to meet someone again. I had such a fabulous experience [with Pam], not to replace her. I am just lonely."