Scientists say psychedelic drugs like LSD are much less harmful than alcohol

The use of psychedelic drugs does not increase a person’s risk of developing mental health problems, according to new research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Norwegian clinical psychologist Pål-Ørjan Johansen and neuroscientist Teri Suzanne Krebs said the findings show that most of the claims about the harms from psychedelic drugs like LSD, “magic” psilocybe mushrooms, and mescaline-containing cacti are unfounded.

“There is little evidence linking psychedelic use to lasting mental health problems. In general, use of psychedelics does not appear to be particularly dangerous when compared to other activities considered to have acceptable safety,” the researchers wrote in the study.

“Concern about psychedelic use seems to have been based on media sensationalism, lack of information and cultural biases, rather than evidence-based harm assessments.”

The study was based on 135,095 American adults who participated in the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The researchers found no association between psychedelic drug use and psychological distress, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts. Those who used psychedelics were actually less likely to need mental health treatment than those who didn’t use the drugs.

“Over 30 million US adults have tried psychedelics and there just is not much evidence of health problems,” Johansen said in a news release.

A previous study conducted by Johansen and Krebs found no link between psychedelic use and serious psychological distress, receiving or needing mental health treatment, or symptoms of eight psychiatric diagnoses, including major depression, anxiety disorders, mania and psychosis, or visual hallucinations.

“Drug experts consistently rank LSD and psilocybin mushrooms as much less harmful to the individual user and to society compared to alcohol and other controlled substances,” Krebs added.

The major side effects of psychedelic drugs are psychological, rather than physiological. The drugs are not addictive, but can produce unpleasant or even horrifying experiences known as “bad trips.”

“Given the design of our study, we cannot exclude the possibility that use of psychedelics might have a negative effect on mental health for some individuals or groups, perhaps counterbalanced at a population level by a positive effect on mental health in others,” Johansen said.

Nevertheless, most of the research on psychedelic drugs has found them to have positive psychological benefits. Another study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in January found that psychedelic use was associated with reduced psychological distress and suicidality. Research has found that psilocybin inhibits the processing of negative emotions in the brain, produces long-lasting elevations in mood among healthy volunteers, and can even help defeat addictions. Another study found that LSD can have lasting psychological benefits in patients with a life-threatening illness.

“With these robust findings, it is difficult to see how prohibition of psychedelics can be justified as a public health measure,” Johansen argued. Krebs added that the prohibition of psychedelics is also a human rights issue: “Concerns have been raised that the ban on use of psychedelics is a violation of the human rights to belief and spiritual practice, full development of the personality, and free-time and play.”