There is a basic problem when researchers try to assess the effectiveness of treatments like psychedelic medicines. It is that not all people are subjected to the same circumstances in life. A study that was recently published looked at people who used psychedelics during the Covid-19 pandemic and evaluated their mental health. This was a stressful time for most people and was roughly the same experience for everyone. What they found were better mental health outcomes with psychedelic use.
Treatment With Psychedelic Medicines
Psychedelics were long associated with countercultural movements. Only recently has research into their use as medicines gained traction. We know from an increasing number of studies that psychedelic medicines like MDMA and psilocybin are effective as adjunctive therapy for PTSD and depression. Although psychotherapy has been found essential for these medicines to be of use, there is strong evidence of beneficial effects of simply taking the medicines even without psychotherapy. This being the case, researchers decided to look at how people fared who took psychedelics during the wave of mental illness problems that emerged during the Covid pandemic.
Psychedelics Help People Cope With Stressful Situations
Working from evidence that psychedelics in general help people cope with stress, researchers applied this evidence to folks during the pandemic. They recruited nearly three thousand people of whom a thousand followed up at two months and nearly five hundred followed up at six months. Subjects were recruited via social media from more than eighty nations with surveys made available in Spanish, Portuguese, and English. Test subjects were not told that psychedelics were the point of the study.
They used standard and established tools in their study. These included the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) for screening psychological distress, the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) for evaluating specific symptoms of psychopathology, the Peritraumatic Stress Inventory (PSI) to measure symptoms associated with traumatic experiences, and the Post-traumatic Growth Inventory (PGI) to assess positive changes following such experiences.
Use of Psychedelics and Mental Health
Test subjects were asked if they had used LSD, peyote, ayahuasca, psilocybin or mushrooms containing psilocybin or MDMA. Subjects were categorized as having never used psychedelics, occasional users, and regular users. The regularity of use of psychedelics was also tracked during follow-ups. What they found was that people who reported regular use of psychedelics over their lifetimes reported better mental health on their questionnaires. These outcomes included a better sense of well-being, less distress, and fewer mental health disorder symptoms. There was less depression, fewer compulsions, less hostility, and fewer obsessions in this group. These folks reported lower lives of psychoticism, phobic anxiety, and paranoid ideation as well. Their psychological General Severity Indexes were lower.
Regular Versus Occasional or Never-users of Psychedelics
Where they found a difference was between occasional users and those who never used psychedelics and those who used them regularly. A test to measure positive changes after a traumatic event, the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory or PTG, was significantly better in those who routinely used psychedelics. Changes included personal strength, improved relationships, greater appreciation of life, and spiritual growth.
Psychedelics Help People Adapt to Stress
Researchers say that this study confirms their belief that psychedelics used regularly help people adapt to stress in life and that this is how they help improve and maintain mental health. Something that was not totally unique to the pandemic but perhaps more of a factor was the importance of news from the media and politicians about what is going on in the world. In other words, the news made the situation more depressing than it already was. What the study revealed was that routine psychedelic users were universally less reliant on these sources of information.
The results among English, Portuguese, and Spanish speakers were generally the same.
Next Has to Be a Controlled Trial
The researchers note that this sort of study has its limits. The high dropout rate is a concern. Also, self-reporting instead of administering tests to individuals can lead to biases. In other words, this was an observational study carried out at a distance. The next step will need to be one in which subjects work directly with the researchers. The goal of such work will be to find out if psychedelic medicines have preventative abilities for mental illness and not simply the ability to help in treatment.