Published in the Aug. 19 issue of PLoS One, the study says that some psychedelic drugs may even reduce risk for psychological problems.
“After adjusting for other risk factors, lifetime use of LSD, psilocybin, mescaline or peyote, or past year use of LSD was not associated with a higher rate of mental health problems or receiving mental health treatment,” study author Pal-Orjan Johansen, a neuroscientist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, said in a statement.
Psychedelic drugs have similar structures to naturally-occurring neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers found in the brain, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The exact way they work is unclear, but they’re thought to temporarily interfere with neurotransmitter action, leading to rapid emotional swings and hallucinogenic “trips” that can last hours (on average six hours for magic mushrooms, or psilocybin, and up to 12 hours for peyote and LSD).
A 2007 government survey found about 1.1 million people aged 12 and older had used a psychedelic drug for the first time in the year prior to being surveyed, NIDA reported.
There haven’t been properly controlled studies on these drugs, according to the government drug agency, but some case reports and smaller studies suggest there could be long-term effects like flashbacks, impaired memory, and risk of psychiatric illness.
For the new study, researchers analyzed data on more than 130,000 randomly chosen Americans who took a drug use survey between 2001 and 2004, including 22,000 who had used a psychedelic drug at least once. They were also asked about any mental health symptoms and treatments that took place in the year prior to being surveyed. The symptoms in the survey were associated with mental health woes including psychological distress, anxiety disorders, psychosis and mood disorders.
They found no association between the drugs and this range of mental health problems. Instead, the researchers found lifetime use of psilocybin or mescaline and use of LSD in the past year were linked to lower rates of major psychological distress. Lifetime LSD users were also less likely to receive outpatient mental health treatment, such as from a therapist, or take psychiatric prescription medications.
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