Data from a government-sponsored survey indicates that psychedelic drugs like LSD, magic mushrooms, and peyote do not increase a person's risk of developing mental health problems.
"Everything has some potential for negative effects, but psychedelic use is overall considered to pose a very low risk to the individual and to society," clinical psychologist Pål-Ørjan Johansen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology said. "Psychedelics can elicit temporary feelings of anxiety and confusion, but accidents leading to serious injury are extremely rare."
The study, published online Tuesday in PLoS One, used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health survey to investigate psychedelic drug use and mental health problems. The survey is administered annually by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The researchers found psychedelic use was not associated with a higher rate of mental health problems. In fact, the use of psychedelic drugs appeared to reduce the risk of mental illness, though only slightly.
"Early speculation that psychedelics might lead to mental health problems was based on a small number of case reports and did not take into account either the widespread use of psychedelics or the not infrequent rate of mental health problems in the general population," researcher Teri Krebs added.
Case reports have indicated that psychedelic drugs can trigger preexisting psychiatric conditions, such as psychosis, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and depression. Case reports provide important clues to researchers, but unlike scientific studies they cannot be generalized to larger populations.
"Case reports of mental health problems following psychedelics are often comparable to case reports of mental health problems linked to intensive meditation, visiting holy sites, or viewing beautiful artwork and sublime natural scenes," the researchers wrote.
Previous research has established that LSD, magic mushrooms, and peyote are not addictive. They are not known to harm the brain.
Psychedelic drugs have been gaining the attention of medical researchers in recent years.
Scientists at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center have found psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can safely treat death anxiety in patients with advanced-stage cancer. Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have also found psilocybin created positive changes in attitudes, mood, life satisfaction, and behavior that persisted for more than a year.
Preliminary research on another drug that is often classified as a psychedelic, MDMA, indicated it could help those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration currently classifies LSD, psilocybin, and peyote as Schedule I substances: a category reserved for very dangerous drugs with no medical value.
[Picture of dilated pupil by Flickr user Olivier, Creative Commons-licensed]