The Long-Term Effects of Psychedelics
An Overview of Psychedelics
Psychedelics, also known as hallucinogens, are a class of drugs that alter a person's perception, mood, and thought patterns. These drugs can produce intense sensory experiences, including visual and auditory hallucinations, and can cause a range of psychological effects. The use of psychedelics has been associated with both positive and negative effects, and researchers have been studying their long-term effects for decades. This article will explore the current understanding of the long-term effects of psychedelics and provide references to support the information presented.
Psychedelics work by binding to specific receptors in the brain, including the serotonin 2A receptor, which is responsible for the visual and perceptual effects of psychedelics. Psychedelics can cause alterations in the way that the brain processes information, leading to changes in consciousness and a sense of heightened awareness.
Psychedelics can be found in a variety of plants and fungi, including psilocybin mushrooms, peyote cactus, and ayahuasca. They can also be synthesized in a laboratory, with examples including lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and 2,5-dimethoxy-4-methylamphetamine (DOM).
Historically, psychedelics have been used for religious and spiritual purposes, with indigenous cultures using them in shamanic rituals. More recently, they have been used in a therapeutic context to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. However, the use of psychedelics remains illegal in most countries and is associated with significant legal and social risks.
Positive Long-Term Effects of Psychedelics
Studies have shown that the use of psychedelics can have positive long-term effects, including improvements in mood, creativity, and spiritual well-being.
One study conducted by Johns Hopkins University in 2016 gave psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, to 51 participants suffering from depression and anxiety related to cancer. The participants reported significant improvements in their mood and quality of life, with the effects still evident six months later.1
Another study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2019 found that LSD can have positive long-term effects on mood, creativity, and openness to new experiences. The researchers followed up with 20 participants who had taken LSD in a controlled laboratory setting 12 months earlier and found that they reported sustained improvements in these areas.2
Other studies have reported that the use of psychedelics can lead to improvements in spiritual well-being. For example, a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2017 found that participants who received psilocybin in a therapeutic setting reported increases in feelings of spiritual well-being, with effects lasting up to six months after treatment.3
Negative Long-Term Effects of Psychedelics
While the long-term effects of psychedelics can be positive, they can also be negative, and research has identified several potential risks.
One of the most well-known risks of using psychedelics is the potential for a "bad trip" or challenging trip - a highly distressing experience that can include paranoia, anxiety, and hallucinations. Challenging trips can be traumatic and may cause lasting psychological harm without adequate support, just like any challenging real-life experiences. It is important to have proper support by qualified practitioners of psychedelic treatments so you do not experience long-term psychological harm from challenging trips.
Long-term use of psychedelics can also lead to a condition known as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). This condition is characterized by the persistent re-experiencing of sensory distortions, such as seeing halos around objects or experiencing visual snow.4 This is a very rare effect but should be noted as a possibility.
There is also evidence suggesting that the use of LSD may be occasionally associated with reports of suicide and prolonged psychotic reactions.5 Again, this is rare and based on few reports but should be noted.
Finally, the use of psychedelics can also have social and legal consequences. In many countries, the possession and use of psychedelics are illegal and can result in criminal charges. Additionally, the use of psychedelics can strain relationships with friends and family members and may lead to social isolation if they are not supportive.
The long-term effects of psychedelics are complex and depend on a range of factors, including the type of psychedelic, the dose, and the individual's psychological and social context. While some studies suggest that psychedelics can have positive long-term effects, such as improvements in mood and creativity, there are also significant risks associated with their use, including the potential for a "bad trip," HPPD, and an increased risk of developing psychotic disorders.
Given the potential risks of using psychedelics, it is important to approach their use with caution and to only use them under the guidance of a trained professional. Additionally, further research is needed to better understand the long-term effects of psychedelics and to develop safe and effective therapeutic uses for these drugs.
_ _ _
- Griffiths RR, Johnson MW, Carducci MA, et al. Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2016;30(12):1181-1197. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881116675513
- Bershad AK, Schepers ST, Bremmer MP, Lee R, de Wit H. Acute Subjective and Behavioral Effects of Microdoses of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide in Healthy Human Volunteers. Biological Psychiatry. 2019;86(10):792-800. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2019.05.019
- Griffiths RR, Johnson MW, Richards WA, et al. Psilocybin-occasioned mystical-type experience in combination with meditation and other spiritual practices produces enduring positive changes in psychological functioning and in trait measures of prosocial attitudes and behaviors. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2017;32(1):49-69. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881117731279
- Halpern JH, Lerner AG, Passie T. A Review of Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) and an Exploratory Study of Subjects Claiming Symptoms of HPPD. Behavioral Neurobiology of Psychedelic Drugs. Published online 2016:333-360. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/7854_2016_457
- Aday JS, Mitzkovitz CM, Bloesch EK, Davoli CC, Davis AK. Long-term effects of psychedelic drugs: A systematic review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 2020;113:179-189. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.03.017
Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash