The use of psilocybin — the active component of “magic” mushrooms — is associated with a decreased likelihood of engaging in criminal behavior, according to new research. The findings have been published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
“I am interested in this topic as psychedelics have demonstrated potential for alleviating a host of mental health disorders and are gaining a lot of attention within clinical research due to their treatment potential,” said study author Grant Jones, a clinical psychology PhD candidate at Harvard University.
“However, there have been very few inquiries into the relationship between psychedelics and criminality. Thus, I wanted to make this preliminary inquiry into the link between psilocybin and crime using population-based survey data, with the hopes that it can lead to more rigorous investigations into the link between psychedelic use and crime-related outcomes.”
Jones and his colleagues were particularly interested in research showing a link between psychedelic drug use and reduced criminal behavior. “In contrast to previous research that only has examined the association between classic psychedelics (as a group) and crime arrests, we also sought to test the associations between individual classic psychedelic compounds (psilocybin, LSD, peyote, mescaline) and crime arrest outcomes,” the researchers explained.
For their new study, the researchers analyzed nationally representative data from The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey that collects information on drug use and mental health outcomes in the United States. The sample included 211,549 adults who completed the survey in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, or 2019.
The survey asked respondents whether they had been arrested in the past year for larceny, motor vehicle theft, robbery, burglary, fraud/possession of stolen goods/vandalism, simple assault/battery, serious violent offense, drug sale/possession, public drunkenness, DUI, or any other miscellaneous crimes.
Jones and his colleagues found that people who had used psilocybin reported significantly lowered odds of having been arrested for larceny, burglary, robbery, simple assault/battery, serious violence, DUI, and miscellaneous crimes. Peyote use was also associated with significantly lowered odds of having been arrested for motor vehicle theft and DUI. Interestingly, LSD was the most commonly used classic psychedelic substance. But the use of LSD was unrelated to criminal arrests. The use of heroin, cocaine, and cannabis, in contrast, were associated with significantly heightened odds of criminal arrests.
The findings provide evidence that “lifetime use of psilocybin is correlated with lowered odds of various kinds of arrest, even when one accounts for various demographic factors like race, class, and education level,” Jones told PsyPost.
However, he noted that “it is also important to understand that these results are not causal — that is to say, we cannot conclude from my study that use of psilocybin is causing people to be arrested less for crime. Instead, one should view these results as a preliminary link between psilocybin use and lowered odds of criminal arrests that further investigations are needed to better understand.”
The findings are in line with some previous research. For example, one study that examined 25,622 individuals under community corrections supervision found that offenders diagnosed with a hallucinogen use disorder were less likely to less likely to violate their legal requirements, less likely to fail to appear in court, and less likely to be incarcerated compared to those without a hallucinogen use disorder.
Some researchers have also found that men who have used psychedelic drugs in the past have a lower likelihood of engaging in domestic violence against their partners.
But the findings are still preliminary. “We cannot at all conclude that psilocybin use causes people to be arrested less for crime,” Jones said. “We still need to address what factors might underlie this preliminary link in future research.”
The study, “Psilocybin use is associated with lowered odds of crime arrests in US adults: A replication and extension“, was authored by Grant M. Jones and Matthew K. Nock.