Psychedelics gave me my life back

Researchers used psilocybin to alleviate the fear of death.

psychedelic grim reaper
Grim trippin'.Julia Rothman

Dinah Bazer, ovarian cancer survivor and ice skating coach

In May 2010, doctors diagnosed me with ovarian cancer. As I went through surgery and six rounds of chemotherapy, I kept a tight hold on myself. I figured I'd celebrate when it was over and move on with my life. But once the treatment succeeded, I didn't feel at all like celebrating. Instead, I was struck with fear when I realized this thing could come back. I thought about it all the time—it was ruining my life.

At my two-year checkup, my nurse practitioner told me about a study to relieve cancer patients with this anxiety. It involved taking psilocybin, the hallucinogenic that certain mushrooms produce, while under psychotherapy treatment. I jumped at the chance.

I took my dose in a beautiful room with a comfortable sofa, artwork on the walls, and instrumental music playing in the background. It was very relaxing. Two therapists stayed with me to monitor my mood and help me visualize my emotions.

Soon, my fear appeared to me as a black lump located just under my rib cage. It felt physically present, something I could see and act upon. I had a surge of rage that this thing was alive in me, and I screamed: “Who do you think you are? Get the f—k out!” My fury washed out the fear, and the black lump disappeared. That anxiety hasn’t come back. As for the future, anything can happen, but I’m no longer living in terror.

As told to Claire Maldarelli

This article was originally published in the "Tales from the Field" section of Popular Science's Summer 2018 Life/Death issue.