Psychedelic drug use is only weakly associated with psychosis-like symptoms

7th February 2022

Researchers have found that people who develop psychosis-like symptoms are more likely to experience other mental health problems, and are more likely to use psychoactive substances.

The study Psychedelic drug use and schizotypy in young adults, published in Scientific Reports, concluded that while schizotypy scores were higher in people who use psychedelics, the effect size was notably small and only marginally significant when considering young and healthy subjects.

Researchers recruited 1032 (Swedish) individuals to take part in the study, of whom 701 were between the ages of 18 and 35.

Part of the eligibility criteria stipulated that participants hadn’t experienced neurological, psychiatric or serious medical illness nor any history of head trauma or brain damage.

The study found that psychedelics users scored significantly higher on schizotypy compared to controls. However, the effect size was notably low and when excluding all participants with a history of psychiatric diagnoses, this difference was no longer significant.

The researchers added, though, that they cannot completely rule out the possibility of potentially detrimental effects of psychedelic use on other psychiatric and wellbeing dimensions.

They stated: “To conclude, our analyses did not support the hypothesis that psychedelics may pose serious risks for developing psychotic symptoms in healthy young adults.

“On the contrary, the use and overall exposure to these drugs were associated with better evidence integration and more flexible aversive learning. Future experimental studies might provide further clarification of causal relationships between the investigated traits and the effects of these substances.

“It is also important to note that the lack of a strong relation between use of psychedelics and psychosis-associated symptoms does not preclude that such drugs are detrimental for individuals with a high risk of developing psychotic disorders—an important question that needs to be investigated in future studies.”

These findings – along with the findings of future studies – could play a vital role as the psychedelics sector continues to grow and flourish. Last year (2021) was the biggest year on record for psychedelics research, with 2022 set to be even bigger.

Lebedev, A.V., Acar, K., Garzón, B. et al. Psychedelic drug use and schizotypy in young adults. Sci Rep 11, 15058 (2021).

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