Monday, October 2, 2023

Psychedelics Linked to Improved Psychological Well-Being, Study Finds


Do psychedelic experiences make us psychologically healthier? That just may be the case, says new research.

Psychedelics have long been associated with a range of psychological characteristics, both at the state and trait levels.

Clinical trials have demonstrated that these substances can lead to improvements in mood, overall well-being, openness, mindfulness, empathy, and a decreased likelihood of substance misuse. However, most of the existing research has focused on controlled settings and specific therapeutic outcomes.

A new study has found that classical psychedelics, such as psilocybin, DMT/ayahuasca, LSD, and mescaline, may significantly improve psychological well-being in the general population.

best psychedelic retreats
Psilocybin mushrooms Courtesy Mushroom Tao

“The applicability of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy clinical trial data to naturalist use is not totally clear,” explained study co-author Trey Brasher, a PhD student in the Mascal Lab at UC Davis. Brasher says that since only a very small percent of psychedelic experiences currently take place in a clinical setting, the study authors became interested in a “more realistic” understanding of psychedelic use and its potential effects among the general population.

While previous research has demonstrated the positive effects of psychedelics in clinical trials, this study, published in the International Journal of Wellbeing, sought to explore the impact of these substances on individuals outside of controlled settings.

The study, which included three online surveys with a combined total of 3,157 participants, revealed that users of classical psychedelics exhibited greater psychological strengths, lower levels of distress, and higher well-being compared to non-users. These findings remained consistent even after controlling for demographic variables, participants’ beliefs about the potential benefits of psychedelics, and their use of other psychoactive substances.

“Our results show an effect of motivation for psychedelic use, where those who reported a ‘growth’ motivation showed the most robustly adaptive psychological profile,” the authors stated. This suggests that individuals seeking personal growth and development through psychedelic experiences may benefit the most from their use.

Furthermore, the study found that the reported positive psychological effects of psychedelic use were mediated by self-transcendence. Self-transcendence refers to an enduring aspect of self-identification with a larger whole, and it has been associated with positive clinical outcomes and long-term psychological benefits.

The study also revealed a correlation between psychedelic use and lifetime meditation experience. Psychedelic users reported more frequent engagement in seated meditation practice, and greater frequency of psychedelic use was associated with more hours of lifetime meditation. However, the researchers noted that meditation experience did not account for the observed differences in psychological strengths, well-being, and distress among psychedelic users.

woman meditating
Courtesy Jared Rice | Unsplash

The study highlights the adaptive psychological patterns exhibited by psychedelic users, extending beyond the well-being measures previously studied. These findings provide further evidence of the potential benefits associated with psychedelics and support the growing interest in their therapeutic applications.

While the study cannot establish causality, its results align with previous research and contribute to the growing body of evidence supporting the positive effects of psychedelics. The authors suggest that future randomized clinical trials should explore the causal relationship between psychedelic use and psychological well-being.

“The resurgence in recent years of research in psychedelic-assisted therapy has been producing promising results, indicating that they can produce enduring positive changes in people with depression and anxiety,” said co-author Marcello Spinella, a professor at Stockton University. “However, psychedelics may be benefiting people in more ways than we realize because previous research hadn’t yet looked at how they affect many psychological strengths,” Spinella said.

“I have had numerous classical psychedelics experiences throughout adulthood which were critical to shaping my perspective of existence, self, and society,” added co-author David S. Rosen, a research affiliate at Stockton University. “They were some of the most important moments in my life and those lessons were long-lasting.”

The authors of the study emphasized the need for further investigation into the factors that contribute to the adaptive psychological profiles observed in growth-motivated psychedelic users. Exploring variables such as set and setting, preparation, integration, and ancillary practices like meditation could provide valuable insights into optimizing the benefits of psychedelic experiences.

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