ANN ARBOR, Mich. — More and more Americans are trying to tap into a different frame of mind, according to researchers from the University of Michigan and Columbia University. Scientists report that the use of non-LSD hallucinogens in the United States nearly doubled between 2018 and 2021 among young adults under the age of 30.
In 2018, the prevalence of young adults who used hallucinogens other than LSD over the prior year was 3.4 percent. By 2021, that figure jumped to 6.6 percent.
“While non-LSD hallucinogen use remains substantially less prevalent than use of substances such as alcohol and cannabis, a doubling of prevalence in just three years is a dramatic increase and raises possible public health concerns. The increase in non-LSD hallucinogen use occurred while LSD use remained stable at around 4% in 2018 and 2021,” says study co-author Megan Patrick, research professor in the Survey Research Center at U-M’s Institute for Social Research and co-principal investigator of the Monitoring the Future study, in a university release.
This project’s findings come from the Monitoring the Future study, conducted by a team of professors at the U-M Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. During the Monitoring the Future panel study, annual samples of 12th grade students are tracked into adulthood. The study focuses specifically on overall health and substance abuse.
Study authors assessed the use of hallucinogens by sex, discovering that the use of non-LSD hallucinogens was greater among young men. They also noted that White young adults tended to use hallucinogens at a higher rate than Black young adults. Non-LSD hallucinogen use was also higher among those whose parents had a college education — which scientists consider a proxy for socioeconomic status.
While Monitoring the Future did not identify whether young adults were using these drugs recreationally or because they believed their use held some kind of therapeutic benefit, previous research suggests that non-medical hallucinogen use has a connection to substance use disorders, injury including self-harm, and anxiety.
“The use of psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs for a range of therapeutic uses is increasing, given accumulating yet still preliminary data from randomized trials on clinical effectiveness,” explains Katherine Keyes, professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School and lead author of the study. “With increased visibility for medical and therapeutic use, however, potentially comes diversion and unregulated product availability, as well as a lack of understanding among the public of potential risks.”
The survey did not investigate if young adults used non-LSD hallucinogens for a therapeutic or medical reason.
“However, approved therapeutic use of psychedelics under a trained health professional’s care remains uncommon in the U.S., thus the trends we observe here are undoubtedly in nonmedical and nontherapeutic use,” Prof. Keyes adds.
Each survey asked respondents “How often in the past 12 months have you used LSD?” Participants were also asked if they had used any hallucinogens other than LSD (mescaline, peyote, “shrooms” or psilocybin, or PCP). Responses to those questions varied greatly, from none to 40 times or more. Among non-LSD drugs listed, young adults most frequently used “shrooms” — which researchers also refer to as magic mushrooms or psilocybin.
“The use of hallucinogens other than LSD, such as psilocybin in so-called ‘shrooms,’ has increased among young adults in the U.S. This is a rising concern for young adult health,” Prof. Patrick concludes. “We will continue to track these trends to see if the increases continue. We need additional research, including about the motives for hallucinogen use and how young adults are using these substances, in order to be able to mitigate the associated negative consequences.”
The study is published in the journal Addiction.
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