Psychedelics may reduce shame and trauma symptoms in adults with a history of childhood abuse

4th October 2021

A new study found that more frequent use of therapeutic psychedelics significantly moderated the levels of complex trauma symptoms and internalised shame in individuals with histories of child maltreatment.

A study published in Chronic Stress demonstrated that psychedelics might alter the relationships between child maltreatment and self-concept, social cognition, and post-traumatic stress symptoms.

According to the authors, 166 people took part in the survey in which they were asked: “Have you ever used a psychedelic/entheogenic/hallucinogenic substance (including, but not limited to: psilocybin “magic” mushrooms or truffles, LSD/“acid”, ayahuasca/yagé, mescaline/peyote/San Pedro, DMT, MDMA/ecstasy, ketamine, or 2 C-B) with the intention of healing or processing childhood trauma?”

It was found that almost 93% of participants scored in the severe range on at least one of the maltreatment type subscales. Almost one in three participants (31.3%) endorsed a history of intentional therapeutic psychedelic use (ITPU).

The authors found that child maltreatment significantly correlated with post-traumatic stress symptoms and internalised shame. Furthermore, of all maltreatment subtypes, emotional abuse and neglect most strongly correlated with complex trauma symptoms and internalised shame.

However, it was found that participants with a history of frequent therapeutic psychedelic use reported significantly lower complex trauma symptoms and internalised shame despite similar histories of maltreatment.

Study author CJ Healy, a PhD student at The New School for Social Research, told Psy Post: “There’s an abundance of clinical studies of the therapeutic effects of psychedelics, but few studies have examined the therapeutic potential of psychedelic use in naturalistic (non-clinical) settings.

“Most of the people in the world who are healing themselves with psychedelics are taking them in naturalistic settings — in nature, with friends, at home, at a rave — and so I wanted to study empirically whether this naturalistic, therapeutic use of psychedelics is also showing benefits in terms of symptom reduction and improvements in self-concept, particularly among people with histories of complex trauma in childhood.”

Healy noted that research in this area is still in a preliminary stage and there is a need for more studies on the topic to determine the potential benefits of therapeutic psychedelic use in people with severe childhood trauma.

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