The recreational use of psychedelic drugs can provide a sustained improvement in mood and leave users feeling closer to others even after the initial high has worn off, a study of more than 1,200 festivalgoers has found.
Those who had recently taken substances like LSD and magic mushrooms were more likely to report having “transformative experiences” profound enough to radically alter their moral values, which subjects associated with feelings of increased social connectedness and mental wellbeing, Yale University scientists discovered.
By surveying 1,242 UK and US festivalgoers over a four-year period, the researchers were able to characterise the psychological effects of the “afterglow” often documented in laboratory-based research into psychedelic experiences, publishing their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
“Our results show that people who take psychedelics ‘in the wild’ report positive experiences very similar to those observed in controlled laboratory studies,” said lead author Matthias Forstmann.
The most pronounced effects were reported by those who had used psychedelics within the past 24 hours, as opposed to within the past seven days.
Voluntary participants at six festivals were asked questions on their substance usage and took tests to measure how socially connected they felt after taking psychedelics, and whether they had positively impacted their mood. Subjects were no longer under the influence of psychedelics at the time of answering.
Those who had abstained from using psychedelics, drank alcohol or took other drugs such as cocaine or opioids did not report transformative experiences, increased connectedness with others or positive mood to the same degree, researchers found.
The study was not designed to assess negative reactions to the use of psychedelics, and further research is necessary to assess which environmental factors are associated with positive versus negative psychedelic experiences, said Yale’s assistant professor of psychology Molly Crockett, who led the research.
While researchers were unable to verify which substances participants had taken, as they would be able to in laboratory studies, they were less limited in that they were able to observe a far larger cohort in a more natural environment.
The findings add to a body of evidence suggesting psychedelic substances may have potential as therapy for mood disorders.
The new research could even lend credence to the idea of extending psychedelic therapies to healthy recipients, to boost their psychological wellness, the head of Imperial College London’s Centre for Psychedelic Research, Robin Carhart-Harris, told Newsweek.
Scientists should see the study as further evidence to challenge any preconceptions about psychedelics that they are particularly dangerous or harmful drugs, said Dr Carhart-Harris, who did not take part in the research.
“However, and this is an important caveat, beyond the simple fact that the psychedelics were likely taken in a festival setting, the present study hasn't isolated the role of specific contextual factors, such as inter-personal trust at the time of use, expectations or intentions for use, which we know to be very important for predicting how people respond to psychedelics,” he said.
“It would be wrong to assume from these findings that if you take psychedelics at a festival you're going to have a great time and improve your mental well-being in the process.”