According to a study titled Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study (published in PLOS One), the use of LSD, magic mushrooms and peyote does not increase one’s risk of developing mental health problems. The researchers behind the paper are Teri Krebs and clinical psychologist Pal-Orjan Johansen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
They used data from the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2001-2004) to see if there was any link between the use of psychedelic drugs and mental health problems. The methodology, summary of results, and the full paper itself can be accessed here. The researchers analysed 21,967 respondents from the survey who said they had a lifetime history of psychedelic drug use. The drugs studied were the classical serotonergic psychedelics (those which act on the serotonin system in the brain), which include LSD, psilocybin and mescaline.
No association was found between the long-term use of these compounds and mental health issues. In the national health survey, standardised screening measures were used to detect mental health problems, including psychological distress, mental health treatment (inpatient, outpatient, medication) and symptoms of eight possible psychiatric disorders (panic disorder, major depressive episode, mania, social phobia, anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and non-affective psychosis). On all counts, these classic psychedelics do not increase your chances of damaging your mental health.
These classic psychedelics do not cause brain damage (a claim attributed to LSD in the 60s in dodgy ‘clinical’ research) and they are non-addictive. Although not included in the study, it seems likely that DMT, also a serotonergic psychedelic and similar in structure to psilocybin, is unlikely to carry mental health risks. In many of his lectures, the stand-up philosopher Terence McKenna always said that the closer a psychedelic compound is to brain chemistry, the less likely it will be harmful to you. All of these classic psychedelics are very similar in structure to serotonin. This new study appears to vindicate McKenna’s long-held belief.
Interestingly, not only did the researchers find no link between psychedelics and long-term health issues, they discovered that psychedelics could offer mental health benefits. Those respondents with a lifetime use of LSD had lower rates of psychological distress, a lower rate of outpatient mental health treatment, and a lower rate of being prescribed psychiatric medication. All of this new information runs counter to the misguided view of some researchers in the 60s who argued that psychedelics are psychotomimetic (that they mimic psychosis).
Teri Krebs, one of the researchers behind the study, said, “many people report deeply meaningful experiences and lasting beneficial effects from using psychedelics.” Johansen also pointed out that people who have used psychedelic compounds in legally-protected religious ceremonies have likewise suffered no social or mental health afflictions. The researchers are careful to highlight that these drugs, like with any drug, are not without its risks. They admit that for some groups of people or certain individuals, these types of drugs may have a negative impact on their health. Individuals with a history of mental health illness in the family, or who are predisposed to such problems, should be wary. Timothy Leary (the ‘High Priest of LSD’) said individuals should have the right mindset when using these substances and this advice should be taken seriously.
The researchers conclude that over the past 50 years, millions of people have used psychedelic drugs and there has not been an outbreak of hospitalisations or evidence of long-term problems among people who use them. Everything has the potential for negative effects, but overall, psychedelics pose a very low risk to the individual and to society at large.
Negative effects such as anxiety, paranoia, delusions and confusion can occur during the experience, but they remain temporary. There are the rare exceptions of people having terrifying ‘bad trips’ who, in online ‘trip reports’, attribute long-lasting problems because of the experience. Having said that, cases of life-threatening accidents are extremely rare – the scenario of someone jumping out of a building believing they can fly is a complete myth.
This new evidence helps to show how ridiculous and misguided it is for the government to keep these substances illegal.