An online survey involving a vast number of adults revealed that after initiating psychedelic use, participants often reduced or stopped their intake of alcohol, antidepressants, and cocaine. Conversely, their consumption of cannabis and tobacco products increased. The study was published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction.
Psychedelics are a group of psychoactive substances that profoundly alter an individual’s perception, thoughts, and consciousness. They include substances like psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms), LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), DMT (dimethyltryptamine), and mescaline (found in peyote cacti). Various psychedelics have been used for centuries in cultural and spiritual rituals. Due to adverse effects they can produce, most of them are currently classified as illicit drugs in the majority of jurisdictions worldwide.
However, results of recent studies pointed to potential therapeutic applications of psychedelics in mental health treatment, such as for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. These studies indicated that precisely controlled doses of certain psychedelics administered in the scope of specific treatment plans and under controlled conditions may have positive effects on a range of mental health disorders. These findings have recently led some jurisdictions to decriminalize certain psychedelics.
Study author Kevin F. Boehnke and his colleagues wanted to investigate patterns of psychedelic use and how their use affects the consumption of other psychoactive substances. They hypothesized that individuals would reduce tobacco smoking and alcohol drinking after they start using psychedelics. These researchers analyzed data from the Canadian Psychedelic Survey.
The Canadian Psychedelic Survey, developed in association with researchers from multiple universities, aimed to capture data on 11 prevalent hallucinogenic and psychedelic substances. Eligible participants had to be 19 or older. The dataset assessed here encompassed responses from 1,639 individuals, with women constituting 56.3%. This survey, conducted in January 2022, spanned 655 questions that probed into usage patterns, medication changes, and illicit drug, tobacco, and alcohol consumption post psychedelic use.
Results showed that, after using psychedelics, 44% of individuals decreased or ceased alcohol use, 43% decreased or ceased using antidepressants, and 43% decreased or ceased using cocaine. On the other hand, 14% reported that they started or increased the use of another substance. 11% reported that they started using cannabis more and 9% reported increased tobacco use. 4% reported that they started using amphetamines after using psychedelics.
Those reporting reductions in substance use were typically younger and had experimented with multiple psychedelics. Interestingly, individuals using psychedelics primarily for medical treatment frequently reported reductions. Of note, 58% attributed psilocybin as particularly influential in reducing or discontinuing the use of other substances.
“In this large, online survey of Canadians using psychedelics naturalistically, nearly half of individuals reported substantial decreases in alcohol, tobacco, and other substance use following psychedelic experiences, with 25.9% reporting decreased use for 5 weeks or more. Participants rated psilocybin as the most impactful psychedelic for ceasing or decreasing use of other substances and cited reductions in anxiety/depression and increased connectedness to self, others and nature as the most common explanatory factors for these changes,” the study authors concluded.
The study contributes to the scientific understanding of psychoactive substance use patterns. However, data were collected only at one time point and consist entirely of self-reports. Additionally, this was a convenience sample of survey participants indicating a likely a selection bias. Studies using more objective measures of substance use and on samples more representative of the general population of Canada might not yield equal results.
The paper, “Changed Substance Use After Psychedelic Experiences Among Individuals in Canada”, was authored by Kevin F. Boehnke, Daniel J. Kruger, and Philippe Lucas.