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Sam Woolfe

Published on the Secular Web

Modern Library

How Psychedelics Can Ease the Fear of Death within a Naturalistic Framework

Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy has great potential to resolve existential concerns underlying much psychological distress, having produced reduced death anxiety in terminally ill patients, the most meaningful experiences of patients' lives, and a greater sense of connection to nature, one's own emotions, and other people. In this essay Sam Woolfe concentrates on the potential of psychedelics to alleviate death anxiety since that existential concern has the most propensity to instill terror, as evidenced by (among other things) philosophical and theological systems constructed to nullify it. Why are patients able to overcome their fear of death during a psychedelic experience? While psychedelics can radically change people's metaphysical beliefs to include belief in an immaterial soul and supernatural realms and entities, they can also produce a heightened sense of spirituality that's grounded in the natural world alone by expanding a person's sense of connection to community, society, the planet, and the universe. Since this enlarged self is not completely annihilated by death even on naturalism, psychedelic experiences can open people up to seeing death as nothing to fear as a final Epicurean release from suffering.