Psychedelic Drugs Linked to Reduction in Psychological Distress, Suicide Attempts

Psychedelic drugs can reduce negative psychological effects and suicidal thinking, planning, or attempts, according to John Hopkins Medicine researchers.

The use of psychedelic drugs can reduce psychological distress and suicidal thinking, according to findings published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Researchers from John Hopkins Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham examined data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2008 to 2012, which encompassed almost 200,000 adults in order to analyze the relationships of classic psychedelic use with psychological distress and suicide in the population.

Even though the drugs are illegal, the researchers found that US adults with history of some nonaddictive psychedelic drug use had reduced likelihood of psychological distress (19 percent) and suicidal thoughts (14 percent), plans (29 percent), and attempts (36 percent). Because of this, the researchers believe the drugs’ legality should possibly be reconsidered. Because of the large numbers of positive outcomes in this analysis, the researchers noted that the adverse reactions which can happen while using psychedelic drugs may not be as prevalent within the data.

The authors were careful not to endorse the use of these illegal drugs, but “these could be breakthrough medical treatments that we’ve been ignoring for the past 30 years,” explained study author Matthew W. Johnson, PhD, in a press release. “We need to carefully examine these cautiously and thoroughly.”

Nearly 30,000 of the approximately 200,000 patients observed reported lifetime use of one or more of these drugs, which were primarily psilocybin and LSD. Use of tehse drugs was most prevalent among males and among patients aged 26 to 64 years

Other factors contributing to more common usage were non Hispanic white and Native American/ Alaskan Native ethnicity, those with higher education and income, those who were divorced, separated, or who had never been married, those with greater self reported risky behavior, and those who reported lifetime use of other illicit substances. Only 240 users of the psychedelic drugs reported never trying any other drug.

About 12,000 patients reported psychological distress within the past month, while 10,000 reported suicidal thinking in the previous year. An additional 3,000 reported suicidal planning and 1,700 reported a suicide attempt in the year prior to the survey.

After controlling for factors such as "age, gender, income, education and other drug use, researchers found that lifetime use of these drugs was associated with a decreased likelihood of past-month psychological distress and past-year suicidal thinking, planning, and attempts." The researchers noted however that "the observational nature of the study cannot definitively show that psychedelics caused these effects," and that participants who used psychedelics may have been "psychologically healthier" before using drugs.

Johnson noted that "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," but said that these instances "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,” Johnson concluded.