Previous studies have found that psychedelic use may occasion lasting improvements in mental health, but the effects of psychedelic use on suicidality have been unknown. Now, a new study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology has examined the use of classic psychedelics (LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and mescaline), to determine whether they might be protective with regard to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
The researchers, led by University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health investigators, evaluated the relationships of classic psychedelic use with psychological distress and suicidality among over 190,000 adult respondents from the last five available years of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2008-2012) while controlling for a range of covariates.
The researchers found that those who reported ever having used a classic psychedelic drug in their lifetime had a decreased likelihood of psychological distress in the past month, and decreased suicidal thinking, planning, and attempts in the past year.
Specifically, lifetime classic psychedelic use was associated with a significantly reduced odds of past month psychological distress (weighted odds ratio (OR)=0.81 (0.72-0.91)), past year suicidal thinking (weighted OR=0.86 (0.78-0.94)), past year suicidal planning (weighted OR=0.71 (0.54-0.94)), and past year suicide attempt (weighted OR=0.64 (0.46-0.89)).
The researchers found the opposite effect with other illicit drugs, which were largely associated with an increased likelihood of these outcomes.
According to the researchers, the findings indicate that classic psychedelics may hold promise in the prevention of suicide, supporting the view that classic psychedelics’ most highly restricted legal status should be reconsidered to facilitate scientific study, and suggesting that more extensive clinical research with classic psychedelics is warranted.
“Despite advances in mental health treatments, suicide rates generally have not declined in the past 60 years. Novel and potentially more effective interventions need to be explored,” said Peter S. Hendricks, lead study author. “This study sets the stage for future research to test the efficacy of classic psychedelics in addressing suicidality as well as pathologies associated with increased suicide risk [such as] affective disturbance, addiction, and impulsive-aggressive personality traits.”