NYU psychiatrists have been experimenting with using psilocybin to treat cancer patients. For Nick Fernandez, a study participant who was diagnosed with leukemia in high school, the experience was transformative:
[A]s the drug began to take effect, the blackness inside his head turned into an onrushing cascade of white dots that swiftly morphed into a kaleidoscope of geometric patterns – gears, stars, triangles, trapezoids – in all the colours of the rainbow. He started to hear an insistent voice in his head, telling him over and over: ‘I’m going to show you what I can do.’ Fernandez slowly suspended his skepticism and reluctantly surrendered to the experience. What he perceived to be his spirit guide took him on a Marley’s ghost-style journey, with stops at his own funeral, a hellish place littered with skulls that smelled of death where he was in excruciating pain. Once his agony reached an almost unbearable crescendo, his spirit guide catapulted him through hundreds of light years of space, allowing him to escape the pain. ‘I went into this mystical state, and this intense visual palate took over my mind,’ Fernandez said.
He suddenly found himself in Grand Central Terminal, which was filled with hundreds of people he knew dressed in tuxedos and ball gowns, dancing happily to symphonic music. He spied his girlfriend, Claire, across the dance floor.
They walked towards each other and embraced, which filled him with intense feelings of bliss and joy. Soon he was again catapulted, down into the sewers of the city, and then to the top of the Empire State Building where he serenely surveyed the city just as dawn broke its rosy glow over the skyscrapers. The spirit guide took him from there to a cave in the forest where he went shopping for another body, but the only body to be had was his own.
This realisation gave Fernandez a new appreciation of his body, and all it had been through: the workouts, the swims, the bike rides, the sickness when the cancer cells had taken over, and the chemotherapy drugs that had destroyed them. ‘For the first time in my life, I felt like there was a creator of the universe, a force greater than myself, and that I should be kind and loving,’ he said. ‘Something inside me snapped and I experienced a profound psychic shift that made me realise all my anxieties, defences and insecurities weren’t something to worry about.’
Previous Dish on psychedelics here.