Do Psychedelics Hold the Key to Explaining Near-Death Experiences?

New research into psychedelics may help scientists better understand the phenomenon

Evan Lewis-Healey
5 min readJun 11, 2021


Seeing a tunnel of light, feelings of inner peace, and out-of-body experiences. When people seemingly cross the threshold into another world and survive, they often come back with tales like these. The elusive near-death experience has puzzled scientists for decades now. Why do these experiences occur, and why are they so remarkably similar across cultures?

As modern science continues to embrace the study of the ineffable, researchers are discovering that psychedelic substances may be key in understanding exactly what is going on during the near death experience.

What are Near-Death Experiences?

Much like the mystical and the spiritual, near-death experiences (NDEs) have frequently escaped scientific study within the lab; NDEs arise out of the extreme, like surviving a coma or experiencing a severe head injury. Yet what’s striking about NDEs is that they are recalled with superb clarity. Moreover, their details remain stable over time — research has found that the characteristics of these experiences remain unchanged two decades after the incident.

As these memories are often crystal clear, they provide an opportunity for scientists to probe these first-hand accounts and highlight the foundational characteristics of the NDE. A recent study found that NDEs are punctuated by feelings of inner peace, out-of-body experiences, and encountering the infamous tunnel of light. After a long battle with cancer, Anita Moorjani fell into a coma in February of 2006, yet lived to tell the tale, highlighting these feelings of inner-peace:

“It was just incredible, because, for the first time, all the pain had gone. All the discomfort had gone. All the fear was gone…I felt as though I was enveloped in this feeling of just love. Unconditional love.”

Extraordinarily, after her brush with death, Moorjani made headway with a miraculous recovery; four days after the NDE her tumours had shrunk by 70 percent.

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Evan Lewis-Healey

PhD student at Cambridge University. Studying the cognitive neuroscience of altered states of consciousness | Writer for Psychedelic Spotlight