A new study has found that classic psychedelic use is associated with increased psychological distress among unemployed individuals, according to new research published in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies.
The author behind the study sought to explore the potential effects of lifetime classic psychedelic use, specifically lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), and mescaline (peyote), on psychological distress in unemployed individuals who are seeking employment.
Previous research has shown that classic psychedelics can have therapeutic benefits for mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. However, the effects of these substances on negative feelings during stressful or uncertain life phases, such as unemployment, have not been thoroughly investigated.
“As someone with degrees in both Biopsychology and Organizational Psychology, I’m uniquely interested in what the current, growing trends in classic psychedelic use mean for employees, organizations, and the labor market in general. This is a line of research that is wholly unexplored, and the reason why I undertook this study,” explained study author Benjamin Korman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Konstanz in Germany.
Korman conducted the study using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in the United States. The study sample included respondents aged 18 or older who were either employed or unemployed and seeking employment. The data collected between 2013 and 2019 were analyzed, and the sample consisted of 208,136 individuals.
The independent variable in the study was lifetime classic psychedelic use, which was coded based on whether respondents reported ever using LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, or peyote. The moderating variable was employment status, distinguishing between unemployed job seekers and employed individuals. The dependent variable was psychological distress experienced in the last 30 days, measured using the 6-item Kessler Psychological Distress Scale.
Korman also included several covariates in their analysis, such as age, sex, ethnoracial identity, educational attainment, marital status, annual household income, overall health, body mass index, health insurance, lifetime substance use, and previous depressive episodes. These covariates were included to control for potential confounding factors.
Korman found that lifetime classic psychedelic use interacted with employment status to predict psychological distress. Unemployed job seekers who had used classic psychedelics in their lifetime reported higher psychological distress than those who had not used psychedelics, as well as higher distress compared to employed individuals. These findings were consistent even after controlling for the various covariates.
Robustness analyses, which included additional covariates related to physical and mental health, further supported the main findings. The supplemental analyses also revealed that the association between psychedelic use and psychological distress was primarily driven by lifetime indoleamine use (LSD and psilocybin), while phenylalkylamine use (mescaline/peyote) did not show a significant effect.
“Although numerous scientific papers have associated classic psychedelic use with predominantly positive mental health outcomes, investigations comparing demographic subgroups are lacking,” Korman told PsyPost. “My study suggests that classic psychedelic use is associated with different mental health outcomes depending on individuals’ employment status.”
“Specifically, its findings show that unemployed individuals who have used classic psychedelics (e.g., LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline) report more symptoms of psychological distress than unemployed individuals who have never used classic psychedelics. Thus, classic psychedelic use may have negative outcomes in stressful or uncertain periods of life, such as when unemployed and searching for work.”
These findings contrast with previous research that highlighted the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for mental health. Further research is needed to understand the underlying mechanisms and potential reasons for these unexpected results in the context of unemployment.
“Given the amount of scientific work linking classic psychedelic use to positive outcomes in various domains (mental health, physical health, etc.), I was surprised to see it could also be associated with more symptoms of psychological distress,” Korman said.
The researcher also noted that “study’s results are correlational, meaning that they cannot show whether unemployed individuals’ classic psychedelic use was the cause of their increased symptoms of psychological distress. The results beg more questions than they answer and they highlight the importance of considering work/employment characteristics in future studies on the effects of classic psychedelic use.”
The study, “Lifetime classic psychedelic use is associated with greater psychological distress in unemployed job seekers“, was published May 16, 2023.