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Report finds people use psychedelic drugs to self-medicate for depression, anxiety and trauma

While there is some positive research about their use as treatments, experts say this should always be done under the supervision of a professional.

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A NEW REPORT on the use of psychedelic drugs has found some people are using these substances to self-treat depression, anxiety and other psychiatric conditions.

The Global Drug Survey (GDS) report found there is a general trend towards increased reporting of recent used of the most commonly used psychedelics.

The biggest increase was in ketamine use, but respondents were also more likely to report use of LSD, magic mushrooms, DMT, MDMA and nitrous oxide in the last 12 months.

The most commonly reported primary reason for taking LSD was to enhance wellbeing, followed by use to deal with a specific emotional concern or worry. Over one in seven reported use to address a psychiatric condition, with similar reasons given for taking magic mushrooms.

Over 6,500 completed a section of the survey on self-treatment of psychiatric conditions and emotional distress. The most common conditions or emotional distress people sought to manage were depression, anxiety, relationship problems, trauma and PTSD.

  • Read more here on how you can support a major Noteworthy project to examine why so many anti-anxiety medications are prescribed in Ireland.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Professor Adam Winstock, director of GDS and a consultant psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist, said this is the first time GDS has asked this specific set of questions about the use of psychedelics to self-treat.

“Globally we are seeing an increase in psychedelic use and I am certain some of that is more people micro-dosing to self-medicate,” he said.

“Now there are lots of people using it for recreational purposes as well. But we saw with cannabis how the function and source of a drug can suddenly change from being demonised to being a medicine.”

Professor Winstock said there are “remarkably positive” studies on the efficacy of psychedelics to treat PTSD and depression, as well as addiction to tobacco.

Winstock said this treatment should be done under the supervision of skilled therapists who know a person’s past history as people with a pre-existing mental health condition may be exposed to greater risk of harm when using these substances within unregulated settings.

He said he believes retreats such as those offering ayahuasca experiences should be regulated.

The report looked at the use of psychedelics under supervision with the specific purpose of addressing mental health conditions or emotional distress, with 800 people completing that section of the survey. 

The most common supervisor was a friend or partner, followed by a shamen (a spiritual practitioner), a therapist or counsellor and a family member. The most commonly used substances taken under supervision were LSD, magic mushrooms and ayahuasca. 

The report notes that in clinical trials, participants undergo rigorous evaluation to determine their suitability for psychedelic assisted therapies, including which prescription medications and illicit drugs they may taking.

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In most cases at least one non-drug preparatory session takes place to ensure that the person is aware of what to expect, their intention can be determined and a relationship with the therapist can be developed. Over 40% of individuals in the survey said they did not have an appropriate preparatory session and integration session.

Over half of the respondents reported very positive outcomes, with another third reporting that they found the session quite helpful. Just over 1% reported that things got worse. Almost 90% of respondents said they would take a psychedelic under a legally regulated and approved treatment system.

The report states findings suggest there are many people with common pre-existing condition for whom existing treatment modalities are either insufficient or unattractive to engage with. 

GDS said the report underlines the need to conduct further research to determine the most effective therapeutic applications and benefits of use in other environments, focusing on the person’s intention, their state of mind, as well as the optimal environment to have these experiences.

“However, despite their potential utility as treatments for several mental health conditions, unplanned attempts to use these substances to deal with serious mental illness are not recommended.”

Global Drug Survey is an independent research organisation based in London. The survey uses an encrypted online platform to collect anonymous drug use data across the world. To date over 900,000 people have taken part in GDS research, with over 60 academic papers published. 

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