It probably isn’t acid that turns people into casualties

We shall have to blame society or some other fanciful notion rather than psychedelics for drug-induced madness. Or at least new research has shown that the use of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms does not increase a the risk of developing mental health problems. It could even be beneficial.

Trondheim-based psychologists Teri Krebs and Pål-Ørjan Johansen have looked at the link between psychedelic drug use and psychological problems, and found no positive correlation between the use of such powerful mind-altering substances and mental health issues including general psychological distress, anxiety and mood disorders, and psychosis. On the contrary, a lifetime use of LSD is associated with a lower rate of mental health outpatient treatment and anti-psychotic medicine use than is found among non-users.

That said, Krebs and Johansen’s conclusions come with a caveat…

“We cannot exclude the possibility that use of psychedelics might have a negative effect on mental health for some individuals or groups, perhaps counterbalanced at a population level by a positive effect on mental health in others.”

Again on a positive note, Krebs – who in previous work showed that LSD could be used effectively to treat alcoholism – adds…

“Many people report deeply meaningful experiences and lasting beneficial effects from using psychedelics.”

On the need to separate fact from spin, Johansen comments…

“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. Psychedelics can elicit temporary feelings of anxiety and confusion, but accidents leading to serious injury are extremely rare.”

Facts aside, the problem is that the rarity of deaths and long-term health issues arising from psychedelic drug use will mean little or nothing to the few who suffer ill effects, and their loved ones. Tragic tales make for more attention grabbing reporting than good news stories told by those whose lives have been enhanced by the use of LSD and other psychedelic compounds. There is also a social stigma attached to the use of drugs so strongly associated with counterculture, such that positive reporting in the mainstream media is made extremely difficult.

From a meta-media perspective it will be interesting to see how widely Krebs and Johansen’s latest work is reported. The LSD and alcoholism story was handled clumsily, with journalists unsure of how to spin it. And that concerned a real world problem and potential solution. Talk of general psychological wellbeing is another matter entirely, and one so often conveniently ignored.

From the bottom to the very top ours is a drug culture, but the principal drugs of choice are alcohol and cocaine. Through hippy dippy LSD pioneer Timothy Leary the philosopher Marshall McLuhan urged us to “Turn on, tune in, drop out”. Instead it seems that we prefer to turn off.

Further reading…

Teri S Krebs & Pål-Ørjan Johansen, “Psychedelics and Mental Health: A population study”, PLOS ONE (2013)