A New York University research team is using hallucinogenic experiences to help patients come to terms with their mortality.
“Some of the things I’m about to say might not make sense,” began O.M., a 22-year-old cancer survivor. He had the far-off look in his eyes that I recognized from so many of the other study participants. They sound like travelers, struggling to describe exotic foreign lands to the people left back home. That struggle is a sign that the treatment has worked. Ineffability is one of the primary criteria that define a mystical experience.
“I was outside of my body, looking at myself,” O.M. continued, “My body was lying on a stretcher in front of a hospital. I felt an incredible anxiety—the same anxiety I had felt every day since my diagnosis. Then, like a switch went on, I went from being anxious to analyzing my anxiety from the outside. I realized that nothing was actually happening to me objectively. It was real because I let it become real. And, right when I had that thought, I saw a cloud of black smoke come out of my body and float away.”