A new online survey of U.S. adults indicates that people who report using any of the classic psychedelics at least once in their lives also reported smoking cigarettes less often and eating healthier diets. The study was published in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology.
Classic psychedelics are a type of hallucinogenic drugs whose primary effect is to trigger non-ordinary mental states, also known as psychedelic experiences or “trips.” Classic psychedelics include substances such as ayahuasca, N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mescaline, peyote, San Pedro, or psilocybin. Their effects include an apparent “expansion of consciousness.” Most psychedelic drugs are illegal in most world countries with very few exceptions.
However, psychedelics have started attracting research interest in recent decades as preliminary evidence suggest that classic psychedelics might provide effective treatments for certain mental health conditions. There are also studies that linked the experience of their use with better physical health. For example, certain studies done in the United States linked the experience of the use of psychedelics with lower odds of being overweight or obese and also with lower odds of having heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
To study the link between the psychedelic use experience, psychological insights during psychedelic experiences and various health outcomes, study author Otto Simonsson and his colleagues analyzed data from an online survey of U.S. adult population that included 2822 participants.
The group of participants was selected in such a way that it resembles the population of the United States (as estimated by census data) with regard to sex, age and ethnicity. 613 participants reported using psychedelic drugs at least once in their lives. Participants who completed the survey were paid $2.20.
Participants were asked to report whether they used cocaine, sedatives, pain relievers, marijuana, phencyclidine (PCP), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA/ ecstasy), inhalants, smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco and cigars at least once in their lives, about the daily number of cigarettes smoked and the age they were when they first drank alcohol.
They were also asked whether they had ever used any of the classic psychedelic drugs. The list of drugs included ayahuasca, N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mescaline, peyote, San Pedro, and psilocybin.
Participants who answered “Yes” to the question about the use of psychedelic drugs additionally completed assessments of psychological insights related to the use of psychedelics looking back at their most insightful psychedelic experience (Psychological Insight Questionnaire, PIQ). This assessment provides scores on Avoidance and Maladaptive Patterns (including insights such as awareness of uncomfortable or painful feelings the person previously avoided) and Goals and Adaptive Patterns (including insights such as realizing the importance of the person’s life). The researchers added items to this assessment asking whether the most insightful psychedelic experience and its contemplation led to changes in the person’s health behavior.
Participants also completed assessments of their alcohol-related behavior (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test – Concise), tobacco-related behavior (Fagerström Test for Cigarette Dependence), exercise-related behavior (the 7-item International Physical Activity Questionnaire–Short Form), and diet-related behavior (Starting the Conversation Scale). They reported their height and weight, which the researchers used to calculate their body mass indexes (BMI).
“Lifetime classic psychedelic use was, for example, more common among men, individuals with greater self-reported engagement in risky behavior, and individuals who reported lifetime use of other illicit substances. Lifetime classic psychedelic use was very modestly associated with more healthy tobacco-related and diet-related behavior, but no association was observed with alcohol-related and exercise-related behavior,” the researchers wrote.
In other words, people reporting using psychedelics at least once in their lives smoked tobacco a bit less and ate somewhat healthier diets than people who reported never having used psychedelics.
When only the responses of participants who reported that they used psychedelics at least once in their life were analyzed, results indicated that persons reporting higher levels of psychological insight from psychedelic use had somewhat more pronounced healthy exercise-related behavior (i.e. they exercised a bit more), a bit healthier alcohol use behavior (drank alcohol less) and ate somewhat healthier diets compared to those reporting lower levels of insights.
Similar results were obtained for exercise and diet when two patterns of psychological insights were considered separately. Also, greater reported Goals and Adaptive Patterns type of psychological insights was modestly associated with more healthy alcohol-related behaviors. People who reported greater psychological insight from their most insightful psychedelic experience were somewhat less likely to be overweight and obese.
“Although these results cannot demonstrate, they suggest that psychological insight during a classic psychedelic experience may lead to positive health behavior change and better physical health in some domains, in particular in those related to weight management,” the authors concluded.
The study contributes to the body of knowledge about the links between psychedelics use and health outcomes. It should be, however, noted that the sample of the study had a larger share of psychedelic users than some of the previous studies. The researchers attribute this to the likely higher socioeconomic status of participants in this study. Additionally, the study design does not allow for any cause-and-effect conclusions and it was solely based on self-reports.
The study, “Classic psychedelics, health behavior, and physical health”, was authored by Otto Simonsson, Peter S. Hendricks, Richard Chambers, Walter Osika, and Simon B. Goldberg.