Psychedelic Studies

Originally appearing here. While battling colon cancer for seven years, Bruce Sewick’s mother experienced severe end-of-life anxiety. “There are ways to dull the senses by using painkillers,” he said. “But as far as processing and coming to terms with death, there’s nothing.” Watching his mother struggle with death stirred an interest for Sewick. As a result, he’s studied the clinical use of psychedelic drugs to treat the terminally ill for more than 15 years, and completed his master’s thesis on the topic in 1997. “It’s all in memory of my mom,” he said. Now, he’s hoping to pass that knowledge on to others by offering a summer course at College of DuPage called “Psychedelic Mindview” that will explore the role of psychedelic substances throughout history. The class, which starts June 14 and runs through Aug. 2, covers clinical research on psychedelic drugs for treatment of addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder and existential distress at the end of life. Sewick, an adjunct faculty at the college since 2003, will also offer the course in the fall. According to the American Psychological Association, the study of psychedelic drugs is picking up 40 years after federal laws criminalized the use of such drugs for non-medical purposes. Researchers are finding that the drugs may help improve functioning and “lift the spirits of those with cancer and other terminal diseases, as well as help treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder,” according to the American Psychological Association. “I want to put out good information about good science,” Sewick said. “A lot of the early research was good, but it dropped off because the recreational use of the drugs.” Drugs such as MDMA — often referred to as ecstasy — have been studied to treat PTSD. Drugs such as LSD, Sewick said, have also been researched to treat end-of-life anxiety and alcoholism. Psilocybin mushrooms have also been studied to help with terminally ill patients. Meanwhile, some students said the topic of the course intrigued them enough to sign up for Sewick’s class. Dana Busiel, a Downers Grove resident who’s enrolled in the course, said she’s taking the class as an elective because it sounded interesting. “I think it’ll give me some positive insight about (psychedelic drugs,)” she said. “All you hear about is the negative.” Busiel said she’s read about these types of drugs being used for cancer patients and PTSD. However, she feels few people know they’re being researched for medical uses. “If it helps, why not use it,” she asked. Sewick said patients who are administered the drugs are able to get a perspective about what happens after death, if that’s where the drug takes them. “They can look at themselves in the third person and get insight and integrate that into their experience,” he said. However, using these drugs to treat PTSD or end of life anxiety is done in very controlled settings and only administered once or twice a month, Sewick said. An article published on the APA website in 2010 titled “Research on psychedelics makes a comeback” states that psychedelic drugs can elicit fear, anxiety or paranoia, depending on the dose and an individual’s personality. Therefore, such research is only done in a carefully controlled setting and under the care of a trained therapist. Yet Sewick said because the drugs have gained fame for recreational use, roughly 30 years of research has been lost. “People have said ‘Are you going to pass out (drug) samples in class,’” Sewick said. “But it’s not funny. This isn’t ‘Cheech and Chong…’ I want to convey that this is a class about science.” The College of DuPage in Illinois is debuting a new class focusing on psychedelic research. Instructed by Bruce Sewick, “Psychedelic Mindview” will inform students about the history of psychedelic research, along with highlighting recent clinical studies using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).