There has been increasing interest in the use of psychedelic drugs as a means for treating certain mental health conditions. For example, there is emerging evidence that psilocybin-assisted therapy may be of benefit in depression, although more trials with larger samples and better control/comparison conditions are required to provide a clearer picture.
Of course, even if psilocybin is shown to be effective for ameliorating depression, will many people be reluctant to try it? One can imagine that some people with depression, battling the "demons" associated with trauma, may prefer to keep trying anti-depressants that lead to gradual reduction in depression over time, rather than a psychedelic drug recreational users use to induce an experience that alters one's perception of reality; some people may have an understandable fear of a "bad trip" or similar.
A recent article looks at attitudes towards the use of psychedelic drugs among mental health service users in Ireland. The researchers conducted a survey with 99 people, recruited via a psychiatric hospital and a community mental health service. It is interesting to see what the attitudes are among people who are engaging with mental health services, as opposed to a general population survey, where for many respondents, interventions for mental health is a more hypothetical idea, or something that "happens to other people".
In this survey, a clear majority supported further research (72%). A slimmer majority (59%) supporting psilocybin as a medical treatment; a similar proportion (55%) said they would accept psychedelic drugs if recommended by their doctor, with 20% saying they would not accept them. A fifth of the respondents also said they viewed psychedelics as unsafe even under medical supervision. Although such concerns may be unfounded for some people who could benefit, it was concerning that a handful of people with conditions that could be exacerbated by psilocybin (e.g. psychosis) thought that psilocybin would be useful for them. Some participants reported they would be reluctant to come off existing medication in order to accept psilocybin therapy, given that some were satisfied with their current treatment, as well as the worries relating to previous history of addiction or the broad illegality of psilocybin.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the authors found that younger people (the mean age overall was 42) were more likely to have favourable attitudes towards the use of psilocybin; this was also the case for those with previous recreational experience of such drugs, as well as those who were less religious. Males had a higher lifetime rate of using psychedelics, although their attitudes towards therapeutic use did not seem to differ substantially from females. As the sample was not that large, we should be careful about drawing generalisations about how predictive different demographic characteristics will be about the acceptability of psychedelic drugs. Nonetheless, the overall results seem to suggest there is a willingness out there among people using mental health services to try psychedelic drugs if recommended by a clinician, but a substantial minority will be reluctant to do so.
It should be emphasized that this work is looking at the controlled used of psychedelic drugs under medical supervision. Self-medication with psychedelic drugs (or other drugs, legal or otherwise) is not recommended. If you have concerns about your mental health, speak to your GP. A free listening service is provided by Samaritans for those experiencing mental health problems. Also, I think a lot of people don't realise that many workplaces offer complementary employment assistance programs that allow employees to avail of talk therapy.
Corrigan, K., Haran, M., McCandliss, C., McManus, R., Cleary, S., Trant, R., ... & Kelly, J. R. (2021). Psychedelic perceptions: mental health service user attitudes to psilocybin therapy. Irish Journal of Medical Science (1971-), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11845-021-02668-2
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