Aldous Huxley’s final trip

This month’s edition of the cancer medicine journal Lancet Oncology discusses some ongoing trials of psychedelic drug assisted psychotherapy for people dying of cancer but notes that author Aldous Huxley actually died while on LSD – by his own request.

Today, in a small handful of laboratories across the USA, an equally small handful of patients with terminal cancer are volunteering to take part in psychotherapeutic treatment for anxiety and depression brought on by their diagnosis. But this psychotherapy comes with a unique twist: it involves the controlled and supervised ingestion of a psychedelic drug. A radical approach, some might say, even shocking. But pioneering? Perhaps not.

Back in November, 1963, the author and intellectual Aldous Huxley finally succumbed to the laryngeal cancer he had been diagnosed with 3 years earlier. Huxley’s life had already been touched by cancer, with the death from breast cancer of his first wife Maria in 1955. It was the experience of his first wife’s death, which led Huxley to conclude that ‚Äúthe living can do a great deal to make the passage easier for the dying, to raise the most purely physiological act of human existence to the level of consciousness‚Äù.

This desire for consciousness and awareness at the point of death was almost certainly the motivation for his deathbed request—written, according to his second wife, Laura, because his disease had robbed him of his voice—for “LSD, 100 μg, intramuscular”. Laura later wrote that she granted his request, and he died peacefully hours later.

A week after his death, Huxley’s widow ended a letter to his older brother, Julian, with this question: ‚Äúis his way of dying to remain our, and only our relief and consolation, or should others also benefit from it? What do you feel?‚Äù Over 40 years later, the current mini-renaissance in the experimental study of psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin for anxiety and depression in patients with cancer looks set to answer Laura Huxley’s question.

To be fair, the comparison is perhaps a little rhetorical because the current trials do not involve giving psychedelic drugs to people in their final moments, but instead during psychotherapy sessions in the weeks and months before death to assist in coming to terms with existential issues around the end of life.

Link to PubMed entry for Lancet Oncology item.

3 Comments

  1. Ben
    Posted July 13, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    I expect you’ve already seen this, but there’s a very interesting (and lengthy) letter written from Laura to Julian Huxley that describes Aldous Huxley’s drug assisted death on Letters of Note:
    http://www.lettersofnote.com/2010/03/most-beautiful-death.html

  2. Posted July 14, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    This is interesting to me, because the way that I was able to quit using hallucinogens, was by promising myself that when my end was coming, I would do the same thing that Huxley did. I think I might be able to manage something along the lines of this study, but at this point (understanding that I will be a different person when my end is coming) I have decided that I will not choose to experience a certain level of deterioration – assuming that I will choose when and how to end my life.

    • Colin Herbs
      Posted November 29, 2012 at 2:28 am | Permalink

      You speak as though you know what live will bring? How can we know when death will arrive? The time is the present, explore the Collective Unconsciousness with these precious biologic alchemical hallucinatory vessels which allow deep immersions in richly inhabited realms beyond the perceived present. This is not to say one should use boundary dissolving pharmacological agents “recreationally” but as in an attempt to try and understand Life and our place in the Cosmos. Peace and One Love – Cosmic Voyager


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