New research from the University of British Columbia and Laurentian University suggests that psychedelics are good for more than just seeing faces in clouds.
“A study published last month in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that men who reported previous use of psychedelic drugs (aka hallucinogens) were less likely to act violently toward their intimate partners, based on their self-reported emotional habits,” reported Forbes.
According to the lead author of the study, Michelle Thiessen (a clinical psychology graduate student at the University of British Columbia), previous research had looked at the association between hallucinogen use and intimate partner violence among a sample of men involved in the criminal justice system. It found that men who had used hallucinogens demonstrated decreased odds of perpetrating domestic abuse. “We wanted to see if this same association could be generalized to a community sample, and to see if we could parse apart the association by looking at potential mechanisms that may underlie the relationship,” says Thiessen.
Based on responses from 1,266 participants, Thiessen and her team found that men who’d tried LSD or mushrooms at least once in their life, “had decreased odds of perpetrating physical violence against their current partner and reported having better emotional regulation when compared to men with no history of psychedelic use,” reported Forbes.
Although Thiessen can’t make any causal claims due to the design of the research (i.e., a self-reported survey), one possible reason psychedelics may help reduce the likelihood of a man being abusive toward his partner is that psychedelics improve one’s ability to deal with challenging emotions. This, Thiessen believes, makes it less likely for someone to act out in violence when resolving conflict in a relationship.
The same, however, wasn’t true for women, says Thiessen. But that’s because it’s more common for women to only engage in violence against their partner as a defense mechanism. “Therefore, we wouldn’t expect the use of psychedelics to result in a reduction in the ability to protect oneself,” Thiessen explains.
Recent research also has suggested that psychedelics could help heal victims of abuse by helping to reduce some of the negative personality changes experienced due to PTSD, according to Michael Aaron writing for Psychology Today. “Specifically, more openness may allow the individual to take more risks and feel more comfortable in situations that they previously would have been too avoidant to even try,” writes Aaron.
But could psychedelics also be an effective form of therapy for perpetrators of abuse? Thiessen thinks so. “There’s a growing body of research that suggests that psychedelic-assisted therapy can be effective for individuals not experiencing benefit from traditional therapies,” she says. “Partner violence is a complex phenomenon, but I do believe that psychedelics, used in a healing context, could be an effective adjunct to therapy to help rehabilitate men who’ve been abusive to their partners.”
This, Thiessen says, is why gaining a better understanding of the therapeutic effect of psychedelics will be essential for developing therapies that can maximize the benefits of this medicine. It’s no easy task: Research on the effects of psychedelics on mental health stalled as long ago as the early 1970s, due to their reputation as dangerous recreational drugs that were classified by the federal government as “drugs of abuse” with no medical value.
These days, researchers have a good reason for their newfound interest in psychedelic drug therapy. “Unlike almost all other psychiatric medications that have a direct biological effect, these drugs seem to work through biology to open up a psychological opportunity,” Matthew Johnson, a Johns Hopkins University psychiatrist, told NBC News. In other words, based on his research, he’s found that psychedelic therapy can help give a person a more “open” personality, as well as a greater appreciation of new experiences and enhanced curiosity and imagination.
Sadly, outdated government regulations are still holding researchers back from exploring the possibilities of this new avenue in psychiatric medicine. According to one report in The Verge, any clinical use of psychedelics in the U.S. must go through a rigorous DEA licensing and FDA approval process. Additionally, the New York Times reports that research in Schedule I drugs requires that scientists also get approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration. “To obtain a license, research labs must have inspections to prove that they are capable of storing the drugs and protecting them from misuse.”
While those associated costs aren’t well documented in the U.S., the same report claims that, in Britain, the added costs of licensing and security can cost a research lab about £5,000 a year (about $6,500).
Or roughly 16 pounds of mushrooms, depending on your drug dealer.