First Research of Its Kind Shows 5.5 Million Americans Use Psychedelics


New research shows an increasing acceptance of psychedelics as an alternative to conventional therapies for mental health issues.

The use of psychedelic substances has been steadily increasing since 2015, says new research by Columbia University across all key age groups including adolescents between 12 and 17 and adults over age 26. The research finds more than 5.5 million people used hallucinogens in 2019, an increase of 1.7 percent among teens, and 2.2 percent for adults. It’s the first study of its kind to provide formal statistical analyses of trends in psychedelic use.

The researchers analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2002 and 2019, and noted increases across a number of psychedelic substances. Findings are published in the journal Addiction.

Aaron Rodgers
NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers used ayahuasca to help heal personal trauma | Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

“While new findings suggesting benefits from use of certain hallucinogens among a range of cognitive areas are being published at a rapid rate, there are still gaps in knowledge concerning safe hallucinogen use, and evidence for potential adverse effects even with professionally supervised use that warrant attention.” Ofir Livne, MD, MPH, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School, and lead author, said in a statement.

Despite still falling under the DEA’s Schedule 1 classification, psychedelic substances including LSD, psilocybin, DMT, and MDMA have been driving the shift to alternative treatments of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and PTSD, among others.

Research efforts across the globe have put psychedelics at the forefront of non-habit-forming treatment for mental health issues. In particular, psilocybin has proven highly effective in addressing treatment-resistant depression, which can affect 30 percent of patients.

Most recently, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers announced that he used ayahuasca—the DMT-rich South American shamanic brew—to address personal challenges, including family issues.

Likewise, former NFL quarterback Jake Plummer, said he had profound experiences with psilocybin that led in part to his current company, which grows culinary and functional mushrooms.

New York Times bestselling author Michael Pollan has also been critical in breaking down stereotypes around psychedelics including LSD. His book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, is now a Netflix series that explores the benefits of psychedelics.

Courtesy Pixabay

“Our finding of an upward trend in 12-month LSD use, overall and by age, matches our finding of a downward trend in perception of LSD as risky,” said Deborah Hasin, PhD, professor of epidemiology (in psychiatry) at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and senior author. “Factors such as changes in risk perception, in the specific types of drugs available and in expectations of beneficial effects of ‘microdosing’ may all have led to increased use of certain hallucinogens in recent years.”

Livne says an increasing number of adults may be reporting positive effects of microdosing and expecting therapeutic benefits of hallucinogens without negative effects, “our findings merit a comprehensive examination of time trends and motives for hallucinogen frequency and quantity of use.”

“In light of popular media reports of a forthcoming ‘psychedelic revolution’ with commercialization and marketing that may further reduce public perception of any risk, researchers, clinicians and policymakers should increase their attention to the rising rates of unsupervised hallucinogen use among the general public,” says Hasin. “Our results highlight such use as a growing public health concern and suggest that the increasing risk of potentially unsupervised hallucinogen use warrants preventive strategies.“


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