LSD Use Growing in Prevalence Among Young Adults with Depression

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A trend shows there is an association between the rise of LSD and adults with depression—but it is even more prevalent in young adults aged 18-34 than older adults.

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is on the rise for people with depression—and young adults are the ones getting their hands on the drug the most, according to a new study led by Claire Walsh, MA, of the department of translational epidemiology at New York State Psychiatric Institute.

“Our finding that younger adults with depression (i.e., those aged 18-25 years and 26-34 years) are more likely to use LSD compared with their older counterparts is noteworthy because this age group is also increasingly likely over time to have depression and because young adults increasingly perceive LSD as easy to obtain,” investigators wrote.

Not only do young adults think LSD is easy to obtain, but they don’t pay attention to the drug’s adverse consequence, which include hypertension, tachycardia, increased body temperature, body tremors, delusions, panic attacks, fear, paranoia (or a “bad trip”), according to past research.

Side effects also may continue after the drug leaves the body’s system in the form of “flashbacks” and additional hallucinations (if they develop the hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder). Since adverse experiences can depend on dose quantity, illegal LSD consumption puts people at a higher risk due to unclear dosing information.

Moreover, if someone were to take illegal LSD, they could not verify that what they are taking is, indeed, LSD. Recently, a synthetic psychedelic substance called NBOMe was sold on the illicit drug market as “LSD,” which has been involved with reported toxic effects and fatalities.

Yet, despite the drug’s dangers, people continue to consume LSD anyway.

“Our results also coincide with findings showing a decrease in the perception of regular LSD use as risky, suggesting that individuals with depression may be trying LSD without an expectation of adverse events,” the investigators wrote. “Given that the trend in LSD use is increasing in the overall population as well as among those with depression, public health messaging informing safe practices of LSD use to mitigate harm in medically unsupervised settings is warranted.”

Some previous studies found that people with psychiatric disorders, suicidal ideation, or serious psychological distress are more likely to use LSD. However, other studies found a reduced likelihood that people with depression would take LSD. Other studies found no association between mental health problems and hallucinogen usage.

Even though the studies had conflicting results on whether an association between mental health issues and hallucinogen usage exist, studies overall demonstrate a consistent increase in LSD use over time. Not only that, but LSD usage consistently increased among every observed age group (12-17 years, 18-25 years, and ≥26 years) from 2002 - 2019, according to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) study.

A longitudinal analysis found that, while young adults are less likely to use cigarettes, narcotics, opioids, and consume alcohol today, hallucinogen drugs were at a “historic high.”

While previous evidence suggests there is an association between recreational LSD use and depression among adults in recent years (2015 – 2020), the team wanted to see if the association is changing over time.

The team pulled data from NSDUH. While NSDUH collects data from non-institutionalized civilians aged >12 years, the team only included adults aged >18 years old because equivalent major depression modules are not displayed to adolescents. Past-year depression was defined as anyone who reported at least 5 DSM-IV major depressive episode criteria, with a period of depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for >2 weeks.

The investigators examined sociodemographic subgroups, which included ages (18-25 years, 26-34 years, 35-49 years, and >50 years), sex; race and ethnicity; total family income; educational level; and marital status.

The team compared adjusted prevalence estimates with prevalence differences (PDs). The investigators found that, from 2008 - 2019, the prevalence of past-year LSD use increased significantly from 0.2% to 0.9% (PD, 0.7%; 95% CI, 0.6 - 0.8).

According to the data, LSD use prevalence had increased among adults with and without depression. Among adults without depression, the prevalence increased from 0.2% in 2008 to 0.8% in 2019 (PD, 0.6%; 95% CI, 0.5 - 0.7). Meanwhile, among adults with past-year depression, the prevalence increased from 0.5% in 2008 to 1.8% in 2019 (PD, 1.3%; 95% CI, 1.0 - 1.6).

The difference in LSD between adults with and without depression was 0.8% (95% CI, 0.5 -1.1), signifying LSD use has a greater significant increase in participants with depression.

Young adults showed the greatest increase in LSD use of any of the demographic subgroups.

The PD for those with depression aged 18-25 years old was 3.3% (95% CI, 2.5 - 4.2). Then, the PD for those aged 26-34 was 2.7% (95% CI, 1.6 - 3.8).

“Young adults may also be more engaged online and, therefore, may learn of new practices, such as micro-dosing, which are increasing in popularity,” the team wrote.

Participants aged 35-49 years old and >50 years old had a lesser difference in PD from 2008 to 2019 than those aged 18-25. For the 53-49 age group, the PD was −1.7% (95% CI, −2.7 to −0.8) and for the >50 age group, the PD was −1.8% (95% CI, −2.7% to −0.9).

“Although the greatest increases in LSD use were observed among young adults (with 4.9% of adults aged 18-25 years using LSD in 2019), adults with depression had significantly greater prevalences and increases in LSD use across nearly all sociodemographic subgroups compared with those without depression,” the team wrote.

References

Walsh, C, Gorfinkel, L, Shmulewitz, D., et al. Use of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide by Major Depressive Status. JAMA Psychiatry. 2023. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2023.3867

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