A mystical and insightful psychedelic experience can improve mental health

Summary: Recent studies have explored the use of psychedelics for the treatment of a range of mental health disorders. A new study finds that more insightful and mystical “journeys” while exposed to psychedelics may be linked to a lasting reduction in symptoms in people with anxiety and depression.

Source: Ohio State University

A more mystical and insightful psychedelic drug experience may be linked to a lasting reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression, a new study has found.

The researchers conducted a machine learning analysis of data from nearly 1,000 survey respondents about their previous non-clinical experiences with psychedelic drugs. The analysis suggests that people who scored the highest on questionnaires assessing the mystical and insightful nature of their experiences consistently reported improvements in their symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The analysis also suggests that a difficult experience with these substances, which seems frightening or unsettling, can have beneficial results, especially in the context of mystical and insightful experiences. This could be useful for practitioners when guiding patients through clinical trials testing the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

“Sometimes the challenge arises because it’s an intensely mystical and insightful experience that can, in and of itself, be difficult,” said lead author Alan Davis, assistant professor and director of the Center for Psychedelic Drug. Research and Education at Ohio State University College. social work.

“In clinical research, people do whatever they can to create a safe and supportive environment. But when challenges arise, it’s important to better understand that difficult experiences can actually be linked to positive outcomes.

The research was published online recently in the Affective Disorders Diary.

The study is the first to characterize subtypes of subjective psychedelic experience and link them to mental health outcomes. The data comes from previous work conducted by Davis, consisting of an anonymous internet survey of people who reported having had a moderate to strong psychedelic experience in the past that resulted in changes in their symptoms of anxiety and depression – regardless of the level of those symptoms prior to the psychedelic experience.

The 985 participants whose responses were analyzed in this study described the substances they had used and completed questionnaires rating how mystical their psychedelic experience was (evoking feelings of pure awareness, positive mood and/or transcendence of time and space difficult to understand). describe in words), psychologically insightful (causing acute insight into memories, emotions, relationships, behaviors, or beliefs), or empowering.

Outcomes assessed in the survey included levels of symptoms of depression and anxiety and ratings of life satisfaction and psychological flexibility – a person’s ability to act in ways consistent with their values, whatever internal or external experience she might have – before and after using the psychedelic. .

The sample included users of psilocybin (magic mushrooms), LSD, Ayahuasca, mescaline, peyote cactus and 5-MeO-DMT, the naturally occurring psychedelic substance in Colorado toad venom, with the level estimated dose of single drug use they recalled.

Data analysis revealed three distinct subtypes of psychedelic experiences:

  • High score, combining high scores on the mystical and insightful ratings with moderate scores on the difficult rating.
  • Low score, with low to moderate scores on mystical and insightful experiences and low scores on the difficult scale.
  • Positive score, with high scores for the mystical and insightful experiences and low scores for the difficult assessment.

“The group that had the most insightful and mystical experiences and the least difficult experiences showed the most benefit in terms of remission of symptoms of anxiety and depression and other longer-lasting benefits for their lives,” said first author Aki Nikolaidis, affiliated with the Ohio State’s Center. for Psychedelic Drug Research and Education (CPDRE) and researcher at the Center for the Developing Brain at the Child Mind Institute.

When researchers analyzed data only from participants who had used psilocybin and LSD, the same patterns emerged: three distinct subtypes associated with the same outcomes, including mental health benefits even after a difficult experience. This replication speaks to the importance of subjective experience for users of psychedelics, Nikolaidis said.

“Identifying the subtypes that exist in whatever psychedelic you take answers an interesting question,” he said. “But the fact that we found they are associated with specific outcomes and replicated that finding really shows why it’s important to understand the powerful nature of what’s going on subjectively and its potential to produce a beneficial outcome.”

A few trends also stood out: the positively rated group whose experience might be considered optimal – high scores on mysticism and insight and low scores on challenges – tended to be younger than participants in the others. groups.

It shows a psychedelic brain
The study is the first to characterize subtypes of subjective psychedelic experience and link them to mental health outcomes. Image is in public domain

Among those who scored higher on difficult experiences, there was a higher proportion of people who had taken high doses of psychedelic drugs. And the low-scoring subtype had lower psychological flexibility, anxiety, and depression scores before the psychedelic experience, and smaller improvements in these symptoms and life satisfaction than both. other subtypes.

Davis said he would monitor to see if these subtypes of experiences apply in the clinical setting, where psilocybin-assisted therapy is being studied in the state of Ohio for the treatment of post stress disorder. -traumatic among military veterans.

“Finding the variety of other outcomes that these subtypes might be related to is an interesting next step,” he said. “These could include adaptive or functional outcomes in people’s quality of life or well-being, or a better understanding of their life’s purpose or relationships.”

Funding: This work was supported by the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, CPDRE, the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, and private donors.

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Additional co-authors include Rafaelle Lancelotta from Ohio State and Natalie Gukasyan, Roland Griffiths and Frederick Barrett from the Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where Davis is also affiliated.

About this research news on psychedelics, mental health and psychopharmacology

Author: Emily Caldwell
Source: Ohio State University
Contact: Emily Caldwell – Ohio State University
Picture: Image is in public domain

Original research: Free access.
“Psychedelic Experience Subtypes Have Repeatable and Predictable Effects on Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms” by Alan Davis et al. Affective Disorders Diary


Psychedelic experience subtypes have repeatable and predictable effects on symptoms of depression and anxiety


Subjective experiences seem to play an important role in the lasting effects of psychedelic experiences. Although the importance of subjective experience on the impact of psychedelics is frequently discussed, a more detailed understanding of the subtypes of psychedelic experiences and their associated impacts on mental health has not been well documented.


In the present study, machine learning cluster analysis was used to derive three subtypes of psychedelic experience in a large (not = 985) cross-sectional sample.


These subtypes are not only associated with reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression and other markers of psychological well-being, but the structure of these subtypes and their subsequent impact on mental health is highly reproducible. through several psychedelics.


Data were obtained by retrospective self-report, which does not allow firm conclusions to be drawn about the direction of causality between baseline respondent characteristics, subjective experience qualities, and outcomes.


The present analysis suggests that psychedelic experiences, particularly those associated with lasting improvements in mental health, may be characterized by repeatable and predictable subtypes of subjective psychedelic effects. These subtypes appear to be significantly different with respect to baseline demographic characteristics, baseline measures of mental health, and drug type and dose. These findings also suggest that efforts to increase the personal and mystical insight experiences associated with psychedelics may be essential to maximizing the beneficial impact of clinical approaches using this treatment in their patients.

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