People who use psychedelic drugs report less depression and fewer suicidal thoughts than those who never dropped acid or took mushrooms, according to research published yesterday in the "Journal of Psychopharmacology."
Lead author Peter Hendricks is a professor of clinical psychology at UAB. He and the other researchers culled the data from almost 200,000 responses to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. People who said they used psychedelic drugs at least once in their life reported better mental health and fewer suicide attempts. The results set psychedelics apart from other drugs. Lifetime users of substances such as cocaine, marijuana and heroin reported poorer mental health and a higher frequency of suicidal thoughts.
After controlling for other variables, the research showed a strong correlation between use of psychedelics and better mental health. The latest research follows similar studies that have shown that psychedelics can help some patients recover from substance addiction and help dying patients decrease levels of anxiety. Taken together, the studies suggest that psychedelics could be a useful tool for treating some mental illness, Hendricks said.
"No one study is going to answer every question," Hendricks said. "But we need to be able to go where the studies lead us. Right now that suggests that these substances can be protective for mental health."
It is difficult to study the effect of psychedelic drugs on patients because they are heavily regulated by the federal government. Psilocybin, LSD, mescaline and other hallucinogens are classified as Schedule 1 drugs with no approved medical use and a high potential for abuse.
Hendricks said he and his colleagues are not suggesting that psychedelics be legalized, but he said he would like to see the legal classification changed to Schedule 3 or 4, which would make it easier to study the substances in the lab.
Hendricks said he thinks the improvement in mental health could come from the spiritual nature of the psychedelic experience.
"The mechanisms we are talking about are mystical experiences that can be transformative," Hendricks said. "It can be an epiphany, like Ebenezer Scrooge. Your personality, your values and your mood can change in a very short amount of time."
People who have deeply spiritual experiences on psychedelics may find more meaning in life, which could explain the improvements in mental health associated with the drugs, Hendricks said.
Further research would be needed to see if psychedelics really can alleviate symptoms for those suffering from mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
"It might be that those who use psychedelics are inherently curious or spiritual, and that's why they have better mental health," Hendricks said. "We can't control for that."
Hendricks became interested in psychedelics as mental health treatment initially through his work on addiction. But then he became intrigued by studies that seemed to show potential for treating mood disorders.
"Despite advances in mental health treatment, suicide rates have not declined," Hendricks said. "We have a problem with suicide and we don't seem to be getting better at preventing self-harm. It's exciting to think that this could be one of the interventions that could make a difference."
Hendricks said psychedelics could have some benefits for those who are mentally healthy, but he said he doesn't support legalization or recreational use. Some people with a family history of psychosis should not use psychedelics, and neither should children or teens, Hendricks said.
He also said the drugs need to be administered in a controlled environment with medical supervision. Psychedelics could prove to be a one-time treatment with the possibility to change the lives of those suffering from mental illness, Hendricks said.
"We're not talking about needing to deliver a certain type of chemical that is absent in the brain," Hendricks said. "It's possible this could provide the fuel to be a more complete person. Unlike current models of taking medication, you are talking about taking a medication one time, and that's that."
15 January 2015
Alabama Media Group
Image: These are some of the mushrooms collected by San Francisco State University professor Dennis Desjardin and his students in the northern Sierras near Bassets, Calif. on June 7, 2005. (AP Photo/Max Whittaker) (MAX WHITTAKER)
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