[News release] Psychedelic Drug Use Could Reduce Psychological Distress, Suicidal Thinking
Major rethink in order for some of us, including me? Or is the jury still out, so to speak. Perhaps a major rethink of some substances in light of the emerging role of personalized medicine.
Personal flashback to 1979 and Peace Corps training in Nashville TN. We were housed in motel rooms during our 1 1/2 month stateside training. One evening I returned to my room, where my two roommates were lounging. One told me the other was tripping on LSD (it had come to her on the back of the postage stamp from a mailed letter from a friend). Well, I about lost it, I had smoked (but not inhaled!) some marijuana once, but my perception of LSD was that it, well, took control of you and made you do things you wouldn’t normally do. The other roommate told me I just had to accept it. I said I didn’t have to and left the room for a few others and hung out with other volunteers. I was well, a bit scared that if the roommate was caught or reported, I could get kicked out of the Peace Corps program. Well, we never talked about the LSD, and had about 3 weeks to go in the program. And we all managed to get along fairly well after this incident. Stayed home while I attended college, so I guess this was a version of college roommate “drama”.
- U.S. adults with a history of using some nonaddictive psychedelic drugs had reduced likelihood of psychological distress and suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts, according to data from a nationwide survey.
- While these psychedelic drugs are illegal, a Johns Hopkins researcher and study author recommends reconsidering their status, as they may be useful in treating depression.
- Some people have serious adverse reactions to these drugs, which may not stand out in the survey data because they are less numerous than positive outcomes.
The observational nature of the study cannot definitively show that psychedelics caused these effects, Johnson says, because those who chose to use psychedelics may have been psychologically healthier before using these drugs. However, the results probably reflect a benefit from psychedelics — the study controlled for many relevant variables and found that, as the researchers expected, other drugs assessed in the study were linked to increased harms, he says. The use of nonaddictive psychedelic drugs may exacerbate schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders and can sometimes elicit feelings of anxiety, fear, panic and paranoia, which can lead to dangerous behavior, Johnson says. But these instances of individual harm, while serious, may not stand out in the survey data because they occur less often than the positive outcomes that some people experience.
“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 says. Current research at Johns Hopkins and several other universities is examining the therapeutic potential of one of the psychedelics, psilocybin, when administered in carefully controlled, monitored medical studies.
The use of psychedelics, such as LSD and magic mushrooms, does not increase a person’s risk of developing mental health problems, according to an analysis of information from more than 135,000 randomly chosen people, including 19,000 people who had used psychedelics. The results are published today in Journal of Psychopharmacology.
Nature and Lancet
Nature published a news item on this research yesterday, March 4: http://www.nature.com/news/no-link-found-between-psychedelics-and-psychosis-1.16968 Lancet Psychiatry will publish a companion letter to this study by Teri Krebs, “Protecting the human rights of people who use psychedelics.”
Few or no harms
Clinical psychologist Pål-&Ostroke;rjan Johansen (http://www.EmmaSofia.org) and neuroscientist Teri Krebs (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) used data from the US National Health Survey (2008-2011) to study the relationship between psychedelic drug use and psychological distress, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts. The researchers found no link.
Johansen and Krebs previous population study, which used data from 2001-2004, also failed to find evidence for a link between psychedelic use and mental health problems.
“Over 30 million US adults have tried psychedelics and there just is not much evidence of health problems,” says Johansen.
“Drug experts consistently rank LSD and psilocybin mushrooms as much less harmful to the individual user and to society compared to alcohol and other controlled substances,” adds Krebs. In contrast to alcohol, psychedelics are not addictive.
Johansen and Krebs found that, on a number of measures, the use of psychedelic drugs is correlated with fewer mental health problems. “Many people report deeply meaningful experiences and lasting beneficial effects from using psychedelics,” says Krebs. However, “Given the design of our study, we cannot exclude the possibility that use of psychedelics might have a negative effect on mental health for some individuals or groups, perhaps counterbalanced at a population level by a positive effect on mental health in others,” adds Johansen.
Psychedelics and human rights
“With these robust findings, it is difficult to see how prohibition of psychedelics can be justified as a public health measure,” Johansen argues. Krebs adds that the prohibition of psychedelics is also a human rights issue: “Concerns have been raised that the ban on use of psychedelics is a violation of the human rights to belief and spiritual practice, full development of the personalty, and free-time and play.”
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