Psychedelic Drugs May Have Long Lasting Mood Benefits

  • A new study that surveyed people at music festivals adds to the evidence that psychedelic drugs may improve mood and feelings of social connection, even after the drugs wear off.
  • Experts say these drugs may hold some clues as to how to improve mood and possibly even combat mental health issues.
  • The new research didn’t address whether there were negative effects from taking psychedelic drugs.

Many people use psychedelic drugs to try to amplify the fun of a party or concert.

Now a study published this week finds those drugs might keep the good vibes going even after the chemicals have worn off.

Several past studies have found that in a laboratory setting, psychedelic drugs can help lessen anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

The authors of the new study set out to try to find out whether these benefits to mood and mental health hold true in the real world.

So, they went to places where people who use these drugs are likely to be: music festivals.

After talking with more than 1,200 people at a half-dozen festivals, the researchers concluded that psychedelic drugs, such as LSD or “magic mushrooms,” left people feeling more socially connected and in a better mood, even after the drugs had worn off.

These findings, the researchers said, confirm the previous laboratory research.

The new findings add to the evidence that psychedelic drugs may hold some sort of clue to improving mood and possibly treating mental health issues.

However, it may be a while, if ever, before we can make the connection and put the drugs to such uses.

“Psychedelic research is still in its infancy,” Molly Crockett, PhD, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University in Connecticut, told Healthline.

“Our study adds to a growing evidence base of potential mood benefits of psychedelics, but more research needs to be done to realize this potential,” she said.

What researchers discovered

To help understand that potential, Crockett and her colleagues wanted to learn about the “afterglow” of psychedelics — how they affect someone after the drugs have worn off but while the person is still in the same setting where they were used.

What they found was that people who had taken the drugs in the recent past — especially those who had taken them within the past 24 hours — were more likely to report “transformative experiences.”

And these experiences were linked to feeling socially connected and being in a positive mood.

Crockett notes there have been other studies that have surveyed people to try to understand how the drugs have affected mood months or years after they’ve used them.

But, she said, “to our knowledge, ours is the first study to survey people’s experiences with psychedelics in a naturalistic setting immediately after their use.”

Questions of accuracy

Even though the people surveyed would likely have fresher memories of the drugs’ effects than people surveyed later on, the fact researchers are asking people to self-report their own drug use and mood raises some questions.

What if they said the drugs had worn off long ago but actually hadn’t?

Or what if, to meet the expectations of a fun party environment, they said they felt a bit happier and more connected than they actually did?

Crockett acknowledges self-reporting was a “major limitation,” but she said their “results are highly consistent with laboratory studies which had tight control over drug administration, which suggests our self-report data are valid.”

They also tried to work around these potential issues by including survey questions that, Crockett says, “would be difficult to answer correctly while intoxicated,” as well as excluding those who were clearly under the influence of drugs.

Interestingly, they found that other people surveyed at the festival — including those who were using other drugs, drinking alcohol, or abstaining from any substances — didn’t report the same degree of transformative experiences, increased social connectedness, or positive mood.

Mental health issues

Crockett cautions the study couldn’t assess whether there were also negative effects to psychedelic use.

A 2013 studyTrusted Source found there wasn’t a significant link between mental health problems and using psychedelics over the course of a lifetime, or even the past year.

Those researchers reported that in several cases, the drugs were actually linked to a lower rate of mental health problems.

Other research has found magic mushrooms may have various psychological benefits for some people.

In Crockett’s study, respondents weren’t asked about current or past mental health. But the possible link between mental health and psychedelics has been a hot topic for years.

Ketamine, sometimes known as “special K,” has been proven effective enough in treating depression in some people.

An antidepressant based on ketamine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in March.

A 2018 study found psychedelics increase the number of connections between the brain’s neurons as well as other structural changes. The authors said those findings suggested the drugs may be able to repair and rewire circuits, which could help mitigate mood and anxiety disorders.

Microdosing — regularly taking small doses of psychedelic drugs that are generally too low to produce a high — has been touted as a cure for depression and anxiety by some proponents. Research on microdosing is still ongoing.

Various other research projects are ongoing to study how psychedelics affect the brain and whether they can be used to help people struggling with these disorders.

 

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