Hallucinogen use is on the rise among young adults
Hallucinogen use is on the rise among young adults© Provided by Earth

Asignificant upsurge in the usage of non-LSD hallucinogens among young adults in the United States is causing concern among researchers. An insightful study conducted by the University of Michigan and Columbia University reveals that in the period between 2018 and 2021, the use of these drugs by individuals aged 19 to 30 almost doubled.

Back in 2018, it was found that 3.4% of young adults reported having used non-LSD hallucinogens in the past year. This figure spiked to 6.6% in 2021. 

Sudden surge is surprising

While this prevalence remains relatively low compared to substance usage like alcohol and cannabis, this sudden surge over a mere three years presents potential public health worries.

"The increase in non-LSD hallucinogen use occurred while LSD use remained stable at around 4% in 2018 and 2021," stated Megan Patrick, a research professor in the Survey Research Center at U-M's Institute for Social Research. 

Patrick, who is a co-author of the study, emphasized that the leap in prevalence is substantial and raises critical health-related concerns.

How the study was conducted

This noteworthy information was uncovered as a part of the Monitoring the Future study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the results were published in the journal Addiction

The study, involving a longitudinal follow-up of 12th-grade students transitioning into adulthood, focused primarily on substance use and health.

In addition to the overall increase in hallucinogen usage, the research team discovered that the consumption of these substances was notably higher among males compared to females. 

Additionally, white young adults reported higher usage rates than Black young adults, and those whose parents possessed a college education, indicating a higher socioeconomic status, were also found to use these substances more frequently.

While the reasons behind the usage of these drugs, whether recreational or therapeutic, were not identified in the study, previous research has shown a link between nonmedical hallucinogen use and an increased risk of substance use disorders, self-harm, injury, and anxiety.

"With increased visibility for medical and therapeutic use, potentially comes diversion and unregulated product availability, as well as a lack of understanding among the public of potential risks," explained Katherine Keyes, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School and the lead author of the study.

National trend of psychedelic drug use for therapy may play a role

Professor Keyes noted that despite the trend of psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs being used for therapeutic purposes, approved therapeutic use under professional healthcare supervision is still rare in the United States. Thus, the trends observed in the study most likely represent nonmedical and nontherapeutic drug use.

The study found the use of psilocybin, commonly found in "shrooms," to be particularly prevalent among the non-LSD hallucinogens. "This is a rising concern for young adult health," Patrick warned.

As part of the Monitoring the Future study, participants were asked about their usage of LSD and other hallucinogens, such as mescaline, peyote, "shrooms," or PCP. The frequency of usage varied greatly, with responses ranging from none to 40 times or more over the past year.

The researchers are committed to keeping a watchful eye on these trends and are eager to delve deeper into the motives behind the usage of these substances by young adults. It is critical, they stress, to understand these motivations and patterns of use to mitigate any negative repercussions effectively.

This crucial research work was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health.

More about psychedelic drugs used in therapy 

The use of psychedelic and hallucinogenic substances for therapeutic purposes has been an emerging field of research over the past decade. These substances include compounds like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms), dimethyltryptamine (DMT, found in ayahuasca), and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA).

The therapeutic value of these substances lies in their ability to profoundly alter perception and cognition, which can facilitate therapeutic introspection and personal insight when used in a carefully controlled setting under the guidance of a trained professional.

Mental health applications

One of the most researched applications of psychedelic therapy is in the treatment of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For instance, studies have shown that psilocybin-assisted therapy can lead to significant and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in individuals with life-threatening cancer. Other studies have suggested that psilocybin can reset the brain's connectivity, leading to lasting therapeutic effects.

Similarly, MDMA has been investigated as a potential treatment for PTSD. In clinical trials, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has been shown to produce significant improvements in individuals with severe PTSD, often in cases where traditional therapies have failed.

Addiction treatment and therapy 

In addition to mental health applications, some researchers are exploring the use of psychedelics for addiction treatment. Certain psychedelic substances, such as ibogaine (derived from the African shrub Tabernanthe iboga), have shown promise in reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with substance abuse disorders, including alcohol and opioid addiction.

It's important to note, however, that while this research is promising, it is still in the relatively early stages. Most of these substances remain classified as Schedule I drugs under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, which means they are not currently accepted for medical use and have a high potential for abuse.

Doctor supervision is crucial

Further, the therapeutic use of these substances involves carefully controlled dosages and settings, and is coupled with psychotherapy - it's not a matter of simply taking the drug. Self-medication with psychedelic substances can have serious risks and should not be attempted without professional guidance.

Despite these challenges, the push for further research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances is gaining momentum. With ongoing clinical trials and a growing body of research, it's possible that we may see changes in the regulatory status and medical acceptance of these substances in the future.