Grief and loss are universal experiences that touch every person at some point in their lives. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a relationship, or a way of life, grief can be a deeply painful and overwhelming emotional process.
It can leave us feeling lost, confused, and disconnected from the world around us. While there is no easy way to cope with grief and loss, research suggests that psychedelics may offer a unique and potentially beneficial approach to healing and finding meaning in the aftermath of loss.
Psychedelics, also known as hallucinogens, are a class of psychoactive substances that can alter perception, mood, and cognitive processes. Some of the most well-known psychedelics include LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and ayahuasca.
These substances have been used for centuries by indigenous cultures for spiritual and medicinal purposes, and more recently, they have gained renewed interest in the fields of psychology and neuroscience for their potential to treat a variety of mental health conditions.
One area where psychedelics show particular promise is in the treatment of grief and loss. Many people who have experienced loss report feeling stuck in their grief, unable to move forward and find meaning in their lives.
Psychedelics may be able to help by providing a new perspective and a sense of connection to something larger than oneself. Today, we’ll review current research on how psychedelics interact with grief. We’ll also provide anecdotal reports from Psychedelic Passage survey respondents who used psychedelics to facilitate their passage through the grieving process.
Psychedelics Treat Co-Occurring Disorders With Grief & Loss
Conventional treatments such as antidepressants and therapy can be effective for some people, but they may not work for everyone. For those who don’t find relief from these treatments, the prospect of finding relief from their symptoms can be deeply frustrating and distressing.
The findings of a 2018 study, published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, suggests that psilocybin may be a valuable alternative treatment option for individuals struggling with treatment-resistant depression.
The study, led by Carhart-Harris, RL and colleagues, aimed to explore the potential benefits of psilocybin for individuals with treatment-resistant depression. Researchers conducted a small, open-label feasibility study that included 12 participants with treatment-resistant depression.
Each participant received a two oral dose of psilocybin in a controlled, supportive setting, along with psychological support. The researchers then evaluated the participants’ symptoms of depression and anxiety before and after the treatment, using standardized assessment tools.
The results of the study were striking. The participants experienced significant reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety after taking psilocybin, and these effects persisted for several weeks after the treatment.
Overall, the participants in the study reported feeling more positive and hopeful after taking psilocybin, and many reported experiencing a sense of personal growth and self-discovery– Both of which are key for integrating a new-found relationship to the world and to ourselves, as we move through grief.
Alcoholism and grief often go hand in hand. Both are complex and multifaceted challenges that can be difficult to overcome, accompanied by feelings of sadness, anxiety, and despair, that only feed resistance to an individual’s ability to find happiness and fulfillment in their lives.
There have been several studies that have explored the use of psychedelics, particularly psilocybin, for the treatment of alcoholism. One of the earliest and most well-known studies on this topic was conducted by Dr. Albert Hofmann, the Swiss scientist who first synthesized LSD, in the 1960s.
In a 1964 study, Dr. Hofmann administered LSD to a group of alcoholics in a controlled, supportive setting, and found that many of the participants experienced significant reductions in their cravings for alcohol and improved their ability to quit drinking.
More recently, a 2015 proof-of-concept study was conducted by a team of researchers at the University of New Mexico to examine the use of psilocybin-assisted therapy for the treatment of alcohol addiction. The study included 10 participants who were male and female adults with a diagnosis of active alcohol dependence, and who were concerned about their drinking.
It lasted for 36 weeks and included 14 sessions, two of which involved the administration of psilocybin. Outcome data was collected throughout the study period. The participants were required to be abstinent and not in alcohol withdrawal at the time of the psilocybin sessions.
The study employed a single-group, within-subjects design and excluded individuals with certain medical or psychiatric conditions, a family history of certain mental health conditions, or a history of using hallucinogens more than 10 times.
Results showed that the percentage of heavy drinking days and the percentage of drinking days decreased significantly following the psilocybin sessions compared to both baseline levels and levels recorded during the first four weeks of the study, when participants received weekly counseling, but had not yet received psilocybin.
These reductions in alcohol consumption persisted for several months following the treatment. The study also found significant improvements in other measures, such as drinking consequences, craving, self-efficacy, and motivation, at multiple time points following the psilocybin sessions.
Overall, the results suggest that psilocybin-assisted therapy may be an effective treatment option for individuals struggling with alcohol addiction. Participants also reported having spiritual or mystical experiences during the treatment– a supportive pillar for 12-step recovery programs that encourage connection to a higher power.
The Current Research on Psychedelics For Coping With Grief
A 2011 study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) sought to explore the potential benefits of psilocybin for individuals with advanced-stage cancer who were experiencing anxiety and depression related to their terminal illness.
The study included 12 participants, each of which received a single dose of psilocybin and a placebo dose of niacin in a controlled, supportive setting, along with psychotherapy. The researchers then evaluated the participants’ symptoms of anxiety and depression before and after the treatment, using standardized assessment tools.
The results of the study showed that psilocybin significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression in the participants. In addition, the participants reported feeling more open, accepting, and able to find meaning in their loss of control and changed perceptions.
In a 2016 study, Griffiths, RR and colleagues conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that included 51 participants with life-threatening cancer who were experiencing significant symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The participants received either a high dose of psilocybin or a low placebo-like dose, in combination with psychotherapy, in a controlled, supportive setting. The researchers then evaluated the participants’ symptoms of anxiety and depression before and after the treatment, using standardized assessment tools.
The results showed that psilocybin had large, sustained effects on reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in both groups. For example, 92% of participants in the high-dose group showed a clinically significant reduction in symptoms of depression 5 weeks after their first session, compared to 32% in the low-dose group.
At 6 months, 79% of those in the high-dose group continued to show a clinically significant reduction in symptoms. Similarly, the high-dose group had a 76% response rate for anxiety symptoms at 5 weeks, compared to 24% in the low-dose group, and 83% in the high-dose group at 6 months.
Overall, the study found that psilocybin was effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in the participants, with a high percentage of those in the high-dose group showing clinical improvement and symptom remission at 6 months.
In addition, the study found that psilocybin increased quality of life, meaning in life, optimism, and decreased death anxiety. Other significant changes were noted, including decreases in negative affect and increases in positive attitudes about death, life meaning, and coherence.
A follow up study, published in 2020, analyzed the sustainability of improvements in existential distress in the 6.5 months following psilocybin therapy. This study was a randomized, placebo-controlled trial that included 15 participants.
The results statistically significant reductions in symptoms relative to baseline on all primary measures of anxiety and depression. These reductions were large and statistically significant at all three time points (baseline, 6.5-month follow-up, and first and second long-term follow-up points).
At the second long-term follow-up point, a significant percentage of participants showed clinically significant responses on measures of anxiety and depression, as well as reductions in hopelessness, demoralization, and death anxiety. There were also improvements in spiritual well-being and faith.
Finally, participant ratings indicated that the psilocybin experience had a positive, lasting impact on their lives, with a high percentage rating it as the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experience of their lives, and attributing positive behavioral changes to it.
Overall, the study suggests that psilocybin-assisted therapy may be a promising treatment option for individuals experiencing grief and loss, by reducing demoralization, hopelessness, and death anxiety, while increasing faith and existential meaning.
Why Psychedelics Can Be Effective For Coping With Grief & Loss
For individuals dealing with grief and loss, the experience of feeling disconnected from themselves and disconnected from the world around them is common. This can manifest in feelings of isolation, loneliness, and a sense that one’s life has lost meaning or purpose.
In contrast, psychedelics have been shown to enhance openness and a sense of connectedness to the universe, both of which can be beneficial for individuals grieving the loss of a loved one. One of the primary ways in which psychedelics can help those grieving is by allowing them to gain a new perspective on their loss.
By inducing a state of expanded consciousness and altering the way the brain processes information, psychedelics can enable individuals to see their loss in a new light and gain a greater understanding of its place in the larger scheme of things.
Psychedelics can help to break down rigid thought patterns and beliefs. This greater sense of self-awareness can help individuals come to terms with their grief and find a sense of acceptance and closure, rather than remaining stuck in a cycle of grief and denial.
In addition to helping individuals gain a new perspective on their loss, psychedelics can also facilitate a sense of connection to something greater than oneself. Many people who have taken psychedelics report feeling a sense of unity with the universe, and a deep appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things.
This can be particularly comforting for individuals who are struggling to find meaning in their loss, and can help them feel more connected to the world around them. Overall, the ability of psychedelics to enhance openness and connection to the universe can be a valuable tool for those coping with grief and loss to move forward with a more stable sense of self.
It’s important to note that psychedelics are not a panacea for grief and loss, and they should not be used as a replacement for traditional therapies such as counseling or medication. However, for some individuals, they may offer a unique and potentially beneficial approach to healing and finding meaning in the aftermath of loss.
Anecdotal Reports on Psychedelics For Grief & Loss
As mentioned earlier, the following are anecdotal reports from Psychedelic Passage survey respondents who use psychedelics at different stages of the grieving process. All respondents will be anonymously addressed to maintain privacy.
“My daughter passed when she was 19 years old. The mushroom told me that “you are not responsible for her leaving” but “you have to forgive yourself”. Then I was shown that she is still with us as a being of light, and that we will be reunited when I pass.
This experience didn’t make me miss her any less, and didn’t make her passing hurt any less, but being shown that she is still here with us and that we will be together again has been helpful…
A cessation of the guilt I felt for years, replaced by a hope that we will be reunited in the future, and a realization that there are outcomes I simply can’t control.” -Anonymous Respondent
“My mom passed away three weeks ago, literally the day I started microdosing. That morning I had taken a little too much (started at .3 grams instead of .1) and had about an hour where I had the best laugh I’ve had in years.
With the depression I’ve been in lately, I truly feel like I would’ve been in a lot worse of a place that night, when I found out, if I hadn’t microdosed that morning.
Since then I’ve been doing 1 day on, 2 days off, and it has been keeping me from sinking into being useless. One of these days, I’ll try a full trip.” -Anonymous Respondent
“I must admit, I used it after a very hard breakup and it just seemed to magnify the pain. I was in a bad place in life though and the processing was really hard. I wonder if I’d been processing in a better headspace how it would go.
Used psilocybin 2.5mg. Occurred after a bad breakup, which I didn’t fully understand nor have the capacity to process at the time.” -Anonymous Respondent
This response highlights a very important consideration that should be taken. We advise that psychedelics not be taken during or shortly after a highly traumatizing event. Psychedelics are known to amplify emotions significantly.
Thus, taking them at the height of the grieving process will likely only exacerbate complicated emotions. Take time to look within (perhaps with the help of a therapist) before considering a psychedelic journey.
“I lost my mother almost exactly a year ago, and when I used DMT several months later, it seemed to help me process and reconsider the disconnection and isolation I’ve felt for a long time (even before she passed).
Her death was unexpected, and even though I can look back and see the full life she lived, she hadn’t reached sixty yet… she hadn’t even reached the age at which her own mother passed (also early sixties).
And she was the last (and best) of my family, so I’ve been sorting through an unsettling sense of being untethered to a lot of things: history, certain places, certain communities, and I guess most of all– the idea of what I thought my life would be like for the next twenty years or so (if I’m fortunate enough to live to her age).
It’s taken me most of the year to reach a point where I can use the word “fortunate” instead of “unlucky” in that previous sentence. My trip with DMT (not my first) was in the early part of this year, and of course it was brief, but it helped me get serious with thinking about “connection” in ways I hadn’t considered earlier on.
From past trips, I could remember the nice, general feeling of “connectedness,” but it was obvious that I wasn’t doing the work to integrate that feeling beyond the context of the trip.
In the months up to now, I’ve started being more honest about what I need to feel “connection” to myself, which is the only way I’ve gotten better with figuring out how to connect more meaningfully with others.
Everyone’s different, but in my case there was so much about myself that I didn’t accept, that I didn’t imagine that I COULD have an authentic tie to anyone except for the person who knew me my whole life.
It’s a silly thought, but it was the idea that was drilled into my head as a kid when I spent time in the care of physically/emotionally abusive family: “no one will ever accept you as much as us, your family… and even WE can’t accept you because of X, Y, and Z reasons.”
Overall, the trip made it easier for me to think about why it was so easy to feel safe being myself in my mom’s presence. And that’s made me more mindful of what parts of her I can emulate to give myself and others the acceptance that felt impossible for years.
I will caveat my story by saying that before my trip I had the benefit of a few grief counseling sessions — it wasn’t just psychoactives alone. I’ll also add that my heavy focus on connection comes from both the grief AND the fact that I had to move countries for work shortly after her passing.
So I’ve been managing different kinds of loneliness over the past year. As the anniversary comes up, I’ve needed to return to grief counseling, but I’ve gotten better with feeling safe and secure in reaching out to others (and knowing I can still be safe and grounded even when connections start to feel scarce or tenuous).” -Anonymous Respondent
“I did this [take psychedelics] after being blocked by a guy I’d been talking to for a while, the morning of our first date. I took a couple grams in my room, cried it out, and the next day I was completely over it.
I feel like I went through the whole grieving process several times over, during the trip- going through cycles of crying then laughing.” -Anonymous Respondent
“I feel that every time I use psychedelics, they are helping me through a grieving process. They are very good for bringing the things out that I normally don’t want to deal with, and then helping me get past those things and dealing with them, always feel better afterward honestly.” -Anonymous Respondent
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If you are considering using psychedelics to cope with grief and loss, it is important to approach the experience with caution and care. It’s recommended to work with a trained therapist or guide who can provide a safe and supportive environment for the experience.
If you’re interested in connecting with our pre-vetted network of psychedelic facilitators, we empower you to book a consultation with us. While more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits of psychedelics for grief and loss, the early results are promising.
For those struggling to find meaning and healing in the aftermath of loss, psychedelics may offer a unique and potentially beneficial approach to finding peace and moving forward. As always, head on over to our resources page for more information on all-things-psychedelic! That’s all for now, fellow psychonauts. Safe and mindful journeying!