Cancer Healthcare Workers’ Perceptions toward Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy: A Preliminary Investigation

This qualitative interview study (n=12) examined the perspectives and attitudes of cancer healthcare workers towards psychedelic-assisted therapy. In general, they were open to the concept, viewed it as an innovative approach, and acknowledged their responsibility towards alleviating suffering in advanced cancer patients. However, this view was also met with caution and highlights the need for further research to ensure efficacy and safety.

Abstract

Introduction: Recent clinical trials suggest that psychedelic-assisted therapy is a promising intervention for reducing anxiety and depression and ameliorating existential despair in advanced cancer patients. However, little is known about perceptions toward this treatment from the key gatekeepers to this population. The current study aimed to understand the perceptions of cancer healthcare professionals about the potential use of psychedelic-assisted therapy in advanced cancer patients.

Methods: Twelve cancer healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers took part in a semi-structured interview which explored their awareness and perceptions toward psychedelic-assisted therapy with advanced cancer patients. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: Four inter-connected themes were identified. Two themes relate to the role and responsibility of being a cancer healthcare worker: (1) ‘beneficence: a need to alleviate the suffering of cancer patients’ and (2) ‘non-maleficence: keeping vulnerable cancer patients safe’, and two themes relate specifically to the potential for psychedelic-assisted therapy as (3) ‘a transformative approach with the potential for real benefit’ but that (4) ‘new frontiers can be risky endeavours’.

Discussion: The findings from this study suggest intrigue and openness in cancer healthcare professionals to the idea of utilising psychedelic-assisted therapy with advanced cancer patients. Openness to the concept appeared to be driven by a lack of current effective treatment options and a desire to alleviate suffering. However, acceptance was tempered by concerns around safety and the importance of conducting rigorous, well-designed trials. The results from this study provide a useful basis for engaging with healthcare professionals about future research, trial design and potential clinical applications.”

Authors: Lisa M. Reynolds, Amelia Akroyd, Frederick Sundram, Aideen Stack, Suresh Muthukumaraswamy & William J. Evans

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