Psychedelics, such as LSD and psilocybin, are showing great promise in the treatment of a range of psychological issues, including depression, addiction, end-of-life anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But in discussions surrounding psychedelics and mental health, one crucial topic is often left out of the conversation: gender. Both feminine and masculine norms impact the mental health of women and men, respectively, in a number of ways, both positively and negatively. For men, masculine norms such as self-reliance can lead to worsened mental health, as many men believe they should deal with all of their problems on their own. It is also important for a lot of men to restrict their emotional expression and remain stoic.
Psychedelics, however, can help men question the harmful standards of masculinity that they have conformed to, and provide insights and experiences that show a healthier way of relating to one’s emotions. Indeed, an article published in Playboy has explored whether psychedelics could cure toxic masculinity. And there are good reasons for believing that psychedelic experiences hold this potential.
Confronting Difficult Emotions
When conforming to traditional standards of masculinity, men will avoid facing painful feelings, such as hurt, shame, fear, sadness, and a sense of inadequacy, and instead mask such feelings with anger and irritability. This is because one of the few emotions men feel it is acceptable to express is anger. Research, however, has shown that during psychedelic experiences, people confront difficult emotions they usually push aside and experience an emotional release. Other studies have illustrated that, in contrast to antidepressants, psychedelics increase emotional connection.
For many men, then, psychedelics could lead to a greater connection with one’s emotions, with these powerful experiences having lasting changes. As a Johns Hopkins study found, a single dose of psilocybin leads to lasting changes in the part of the personality known as ‘openness’, which includes attentiveness to one’s inner feelings. This greater degree of openness may help men overcome the pressure to hide from their emotions or to be ashamed of them.
Many people who use psychedelics find that some experiences involve strong feelings of self-compassion. After all, when you connect with your emotions, trauma, or personal issues so deeply during a psychedelic experience, it’s understandable that you would feel compassion for yourself – for the pain you are recognizing and coming to terms with. One of the negative aspects of traditional masculinity is that it encourages many men to feel ashamed, embarrassed, and emasculated by certain emotions or feelings they experience. Anxiety and depression, for example, may be viewed as a sign of weakness.
But if psychedelics can help foster emotional awareness, then this may allow men to see that there is no need to judge painful experiences like anxiety and depression. These experiences are human. They affect both men and women. And they deserve shows of kindness towards oneself, the same attitude we would show to a loved one who was struggling. Psychedelics might prove useful in creating this kind of perspective shift. According to some research, a mystical experience induced by psychedelics can lead to a greater degree of self-compassion in participants. These are the sorts of personality changes that would benefit men who are suffering but who compound their suffering by judging themselves negatively because of it and avoiding help.
Reducing Aggression and Violence
Another harmful aspect of traditional masculinity is the tendency to express emotional difficulties in the form of aggression and violence or the view that aggression and violence are signs of manliness. These ways of behaving may be seen as macho and tough, yet in reality, they put men, their relationships, and others at risk. A 2018 study discovered that male users of LSD and psilocybin were less likely to engage in intimate partner violence compared to non-users. This indicates that psychedelics could help men to act less aggressively and become more adept at regulating their emotions.
The power of psychedelics partly comes down to their potential to radically shift one’s perspective of how things are. This can include one’s conception of masculinity, of what it means to be a man. In the UK, the Psychedelic Society, which promotes the benefits and legalization of psychedelics, holds psychedelic men’s circles. These meetings give men who have experienced psychedelics a space to discuss what manhood means to them and to be authentic and vulnerable without judgment.
For many men, the mental health benefits of psychedelics have come from breaking down the barriers of masculinity and connecting more deeply with their emotions. The willingness to confront one’s self in these experiences is no easy thing to do. It involves a certain amount of risk, courage, and difficulty. The end result, though, might be a higher level of emotional maturity and the capacity to be a more virtuous man.