People with a history of psychedelic drug use tend to experience less psychological distress and fewer suicidal thoughts, planning, and attempts, according to a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
While the study authors are not encouraging the illicit use of these substances, “these could be breakthrough medical treatments that we’ve been ignoring for the past 30 years,” said study author Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkin.
“We need to carefully examine these cautiously and thoroughly.”
“Our general societal impression of these drugs is they make people go crazy or are associated with psychological harm, but our data point to the potential psychological benefits from these drugs,” he said.
The study suggests that some nonaddictive psychedelic drugs may hold promise for depression, and that their highly restricted legal status should be reconsidered to facilitate scientific studies, said Johnson.
Based on the findings of more than 190,000 U.S. adults, lifetime use of certain psychedelic drugs was associated with:
- a 19 percent reduced risk of psychological distress within the past month;
- a 14 percent reduced likelihood of suicidal thinking within the past year;
- a 29 percent reduced likelihood of suicide planning within the past year, and;
- a 36 percent reduced likelihood of attempting suicide within the past year.
Of 191,382 respondents, 27,235 reported lifetime use of one or more of these psychedelics, mainly psilocybin and LSD.
Lifetime use was most common among 26- to 64-year-olds and among men; non-Hispanic whites and Native Americans/Alaska Natives; those with greater education and income; individuals who were divorced, separated, or who had never married; those with greater self-reported engagement in risky behavior; and those who reported lifetime illicit use of other substances.
Among users of these psychedelic drugs, only 240 said they never tried any other illicit drug.
Researchers found that lifetime use of these drugs was linked to a decreased likelihood of past-month psychological distress and past-year suicidal thinking, planning, and attempts.
On the other hand, lifetime use of other illicit substances was strongly linked to an increase in these harms, “which is consistent with the fact that these other drugs, unlike classic psychedelics, are addictive,” Johnson says.
The observational nature of the study cannot say for sure that psychedelics caused these effects, Johnson said, because those who decided to use psychedelics may have been psychologically healthier before taking these drugs.
However, the findings probably reflect a benefit from psychedelics, as the researchers controlled for many relevant variables and found that, as the researchers expected, other drugs evaluated in the study were linked to increased harms, he says.
Johnson added that the use of nonaddictive psychedelic drugs may exacerbate schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders and can sometimes bring about feelings of anxiety, fear, panic, and paranoia, which can lead to dangerous behavior. But these instances, while serious, may not stand out in the survey data because they occur less often than the positive experiences that others have.
The findings are published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine