Research recently published in Death Studies sheds light on the relationship between increased subjective well-being after psychedelic use and potential reductions in death anxiety. The findings indicate that a reduction in death anxiety was related to how impactful reports of mystical experiences were on positive and negative affect, life satisfaction, and well-being. This suggests that the benefits of psychedelic-induced mystical experiences on subjective well-being may result from reduced death anxiety.
Some commonly known psychedelics include LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and DMT. Research suggests that using psychedelics in clinical settings can help treat various psychological disorders and improve well-being. Though the exact reasons for this improvement are not yet fully understood, it is believed that the subjective experience, particularly psychedelic-induced mystical experiences, might be a significant factor in their positive effects.
Currently, there is a lack of research on whether a change in one’s perception of death contributes to the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. In their new study, Sam G. Moreton and colleagues aimed to investigate whether a decline in death-related anxiety is linked to the positive impact on subjective well-being after a significant psychedelic experience.
The researchers predicted that there would be a noticeable rise in subjective well-being and a decrease in death anxiety from the period before a meaningful psychedelic experience to the present.
For this study, 201 participants were asked to complete an online survey that looked into the immediate effects of a significant psychedelic experience and any changes in their sense of well-being and anxiety toward death. Specifically, they were instructed to recall a memorable experience with psychedelics and completed to scientific questionnaires — the Mystical Experience Questionnaire-30 and the Psychological Insight Questionnaire — regarding that experience.
Those with a high level of psychological insight reported things such as discovering how aspects of their life affected their well-being and becoming aware of uncomfortable feelings they had previously avoided during their psychedelic experience. Those with a high level of mystical events during their psychedelic experience, on the other hand, reported things such as feelings of unity “with ultimate reality,” a sense of awe, and experiences of timelessness.
Following this, the participants were asked to answer questions pertaining to their state of mind before the psychedelic experience. Following the implementation of the procedures mentioned above, the respondents were required to respond to the same set of questions but with different phrasing to assess their present state.
The findings were mostly in line with the anticipated outcomes. The participants reported increased personal satisfaction and a decreased fear of death after their psychedelic experiences. The study revealed that both mystical experiences and psychological insights were significant predictors of improvements in all three aspects of measured personal satisfaction.
It is noteworthy that psychological insight had a greater impact on alterations in personal happiness compared to mystical experiences. However, mystical experiences were found to be a significant determinant in reducing anxiety toward death, whereas psychological insight did not have the same effect. This connection between acute subjective effects and enhanced subjective well-being was partially supported by the idea that a decrease in fear of death acts as a mediator, leading to an indirect effect of mystical experience on personal well-being.
These results indicate that mystical experiences may significantly impact decreasing death anxiety, but there is not enough information to determine how exactly this occurs. The research also supports the idea that psychedelic experiences can alleviate death anxiety and have lasting effects on a person’s overall well-being. This study is part of a growing body of research suggesting that psychedelic experiences can benefit mental health.
“Early psychedelic researchers speculated that that psychedelic-induced mystical experience could have profound effects on people’s relationship with death,” the researchers concluded. “Concurrently, researchers and psychotherapists from the existential tradition were developing ideas suggesting that death anxiety may be the ‘worm at the core’ of much psychological dysfunction.”
“The present study found that reductions in death anxiety mediated the effects of psychedelic-induced mystical experiences on changes in subjective well-being. Although retrospective, the present study provides a foundation for further research testing reduced death anxiety as a causal factor involved in the benefits of psychedelics, and helps guide further research into why, how, and for whom psychedelics may reduce death anxiety.”
The study, “Reduced death anxiety as a mediator of the relationship between acute subjective effects of psychedelics and improved subjective well-being“, was authored by Sam G. Moreton, Andrew F. A. Arena, Yolanda Foy and Rachel E. Menzies.