Auckland scientists intend to give advanced-stage cancer patients micro-doses of the psychedelic drug LSD.
The lead researcher, health psychologist Lisa Reynolds from the University of Auckland, told First Up the drug could offer the patients a cognitive pathway to reduce anxiety around dying and allow them to connect with what was important to them.
"Some of the anecdotal reports that have come out around LDS micro-dosing and some early research suggests that LSD micro-dosing might make people more cognitively flexible, more open to new ideas, maybe be able to see things from new perspectives," she said.
"Those are the kinds of mindsets and ways of thinking about things that have the potential to make therapy work better and more effectively."
"Researchers didn't know whether some people would enter into a deeper anxiety or depression because of the drug, but research would shed light on those types of questions. However, early research suggested that this was not the case," Reynolds said.
"I'm a scientist and I want to run a well-designed rigourous trial and we'll be looking to see whether there are negative effects."
The self-administering of the LSD by trial participants every three days would be legal and all above board. But the research team were waiting on approval for the trial.
Previous trials in the 1960s, '70s and '80s had been closed down in the US due to political pressures, resulting in a lot of misinformation regarding how dangerous the drugs were, she said.
"The research I've seen so far suggests that psychedelics such as LSD might have the potential to improve quality of life, reduce fear of death, reduce anxiety and depression, increase spirituality. There's a whole lot of early-stage findings that are pretty compelling."
The participants will receive one-tenth of a high-dose, inducing effects at a "sub-perceptual level", she said.
"People certainly won't be tripping. They might or they might not have an experience or sensations of feeling they can think more clearly, maybe they might feel more creative. Maybe their mood might feel a little improved. But it's going to be a little bit hard to tell.
"This is what makes it an interesting piece of research because some of those kind of effects can be easily generated on a placebo as well, so it will be really interesting to see whether or not the LSD micro-doses generate any additional effects over and above what we expect from a placebo effect."
The micro-dosing could be used alongside what Reynolds calls "meaning-centred therapy", where people are encouraged to connect with what's most important to them in their lives.