Psychedelics and Mental Health

Comedian Bill Hicks famously said, “Wouldn't you like to see a positive LSD story on the news? To base your decision on information rather than scare tactics and superstition? Perhaps? Wouldn't that be interesting? Just for once?”

This is that story.

According to a new study published PLOS One, there is no link between the use of psychedelic drugs—specifically LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and peyote—and a range of mental health problems. In fact, the study reports, psychedelic use is associated with a lower risk of mental health problems like psychosis, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and general psychological distress.

“Many people report deeply meaningful experiences and lasting beneficial effects from using psychedelics," researcher Teri Krebs said in a press release.

The Societal Effects of Psychedelics

Examining data on more than 130,000 Americans in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Department of Neuroscience found that the use of psychedelic drugs not only doesn’t contribute to mental illness, but also may actually have a protective effect against it.

They found that people who used psilocybin or mescaline throughout their lives, as well as people who used LSD in the past year, had lower rates of serious psychological distress, outpatient mental health treatment, and prescriptions for psychiatric medications.

“Other studies have found no evidence of health or social problems among people who had used psychedelics hundreds of times in legally protected religious ceremonies,” clinical psychologist Pål-Ørjan Johansen said.

While researchers noted that some people may have negative experiences on these drugs, they say that, at a population level, psychedelic drugs don’t live up to their stigma. About 30 million people in the U.S. have used LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline in their lifetimes, researchers said.

“Early speculation that psychedelics might lead to mental health problems was based on a small number of case reports and did not take into account either the widespread use of psychedelics or the not infrequent rate of mental health problems in the general population,” Krebs said. “Over the past 50 years, tens of millions of people have used psychedelics and there just is not much evidence of long-term problems.”

A Safe Haven for Psychedelic Users

It’s no surprise that large music festivals like Coachella and Burning Man are popular venues for people to experiment with psychedelic drugs. However, the noise and crowds can sometimes be overwhelming for people under the influence.

At this year’s Burning Man festival, volunteers with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) will once again have a place for burners to relax and receive what they call “psychedelic harm reduction services.” Last year, they aided 108 of festival participants who were under the influence of psychedelics, none of whom required medical attention or incarceration, according to AlterNet.

Cameron Bowman, a.k.a. The Festival Lawyer, offered legal advice for concertgoers who will be using psychedelics at festivals. He says to be discreet, beware of undercover police officers, and invoke your right to remain silent.

Should a police officer stop you, Bowman suggests you ask the officer immediately, “Am I being detained? Why? Am I free to go, or am I under arrest?”

The Law Remains the Same

While this research suggests that psychedelic use may be beneficial for mental health, federal law still labels psychedelics as controlled substances, and there are major legal consequences for possessing and using them.

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