25 January 2024

EU to support psychedelic therapy for patients with progressive incurable disease


A new research project is investigating whether the psychedelic drug psilocybin can be used for the psychological treatment of people with incurable illness. Now the EU will support the project with €6.5 million.

Robert Schoevers, head of the international research project, supervises a patient receiving psychedelic-assisted therapy. Photo: University Medical Centre Groningen
Robert Schoevers, head of the international research project, supervises a patient receiving psychedelic-assisted therapy. Photo: University Medical Centre Groningen

For the first time, the European Union is funding a research collaboration on psychedelic-assisted therapy. The research project, called PsyPal, will investigate whether the substance psilocybin can help alleviate psychological and existential problems in patients suffering from COPD, multiple sclerosis, ALS or atypical Parkinson's disease.

The University of Copenhagen and Bispebjerg Hospital will be responsible for treatments of ALS patients.

"I am incredibly happy that we have received this EU grant. It is a completely different type of treatment that integrates medical and psychological approaches in new ways," says Dea Siggaard Stenbæk, Head of the University of Copenhagen Clinic for Psychedelic Research.

Could improve quality of life

From the beginning of 2024, more than a hundred patients with the four incurable diseases will be treated at various research clinics in Europe.

Participants will undergo two therapy sessions where they will receive either psilocybin – the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms – or a placebo.

Previous pilot studies have shown that treatment with psilocybin can significantly reduce depression and anxiety in people living with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. In some cases, there have been sustained improvements in patients' mental health.

"Our most vulnerable patients need us to keep exploring new treatment options that can improve their quality of life. It is therefore with great enthusiasm that we are now preparing the study," says Dea Siggaard Stenbæk.

Psychedelic experiences in a safe environment

Having a life-threatening or incurable illness will often significantly impair one's physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. 

Between 34% and 80% of people with the four incurable diseases included in the PsyPal project are affected by symptoms of depression and anxiety.

In the project, researchers use psilocybin in a safe environment, along with professional psychotherapeutic support. It is an approach that not only addresses symptoms of depression and anxiety but will also focus on existential aspects and the overall quality of life of palliative patients, explains Dea Siggaard Stenbæk.

"In Denmark, we already have a lot of experience with the administration of the psychedelic drug psilocybin. I am sure that this experience will benefit this study," she concludes.

PsyPal is funded by Horizon Europe, the EU's main funding programme for research and innovation. The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the EU or the granting authority.


Dea Siggaard Stenbæk
Associate Professor
Department of Psychology
Mail: dea@psy.ku.dk 
Phone: +45 35 33 57 08

Simon Knokgaard Halskov
Press and communication advisor
The Faculty of Social Sciences
Mail: sih@samf.ku.dk 
Phone: +45 93 56 53 29


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