Psychedelics Not a Risk Factor for Mental Health Problems

Kermit Cole
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Noting that “psychedelics are not known to cause damage to the brain or other organs of the body, or cause withdrawal symptoms, elicit addiction of compulsive use, or cause birth defects or… to elicit violence”, Norwegian researchers drew on data from 130,152 respondents to the U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health (from 2001 to 2004) to evaluate the association between use of psychedelics and mental health among U.S. adults. They found no significant associations between either lifetime or past-year use of any psychedelics and an increased rate of any mental health outcomes; “Rather, in several cases psychedelic use was associated with (a) lower rate of mental health problems.”

Article →

Krebs, T., Johansen, P.; Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study. PLoS One. Online August 19, 2013

Of further interest:
LSD and other psychedelics not linked with mental health problems (Press release from Trondheim Norwegian University of Science and Technology)
Sobered up using LSD (Research by Krebs and Johansen on LSD for alcoholism)
LSD and Other Psychedelics Not Linked With Mental Health Problems, Analysis Suggests (Science Daily)

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected]

9 COMMENTS

  1. I’ll confess to being completely baffled by this research. I came into this world of mental disorders, as an informal researcher, in 2007, when I began speaking with hundreds, then thousands of people regarding their initual episodes of ‘acute psychosis’ which usually gets labeled as Bipolar One (and formerly as schizophrenia). I was shocked to discover that somewhere between 75% and 85% of people were using marijuana or some other mind-altering substance prior to their first episode. In my countless conversations with people, LSD and mushrooms are commonly referred to as initial triggers. Other drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy, meth, crack, heroine, etc… were also referred to, but much less so. So, based on my experience, I am dumbfounded by the conclusions presented in this paper.

    This paper also suggests that “hallucinogen persisting perceptual disorder” (HPPD) is a rare occurence which is no more persistent among LSD users than the normal population. It also says that the famous ‘acid flashback’ doesn’t really exist! Again, troubling.

    Obvously, I’m not in a position to challenge the data in this research. In truth, I didn’t understand their data! But, I hope some more qualified researchers out there take a closer look at the validity of their methodology and conclusions. Considering the weight of what is suggested, a duplication of this study is in need.

  2. “Hell,” said Hunter S. Thompson “you don’t find acid, it finds you!”

    As a veteran interested in the cause, prevention and treatment of “PTSD”, I was led to the work of Ernst Junger, who wrote the classic “Storm of Steel” about his experience in World War One (he was also in WWII). He lived to be 103 and took LSD many times with his friend Albert Hoffmann.

    http://www.juenger.org/

  3. I, too, read this article and was baffled myself. In my quest to understand more about what led to my beautiful 6’5″ 25 y/o son’s death by suicide 19 months ago, I found RW’s book, Anatomy …Epidemic (2010) which led to this webzine where I continue to learn daily! As any parent will forever have regrets, one of my biggest regrets is not sharing the many fabulous YouTube videos ” bipolar or awakening” that I found when my son had the first psychotic break, Oct 2009, right after marrying his longtime girlfriend, who eventually abandoned and betrayed him 18 months later after his second and final breakdown. My always healthy, vibrant, outgoing son who was beloved by all and had a large circle of friends including his ” band of brothers” who still struggle to accept his death…but my son wrote on the saddest good- bye note he left ” my choices led to this end”. Let’s examine at least one young man’s ” choices” which my husband and I heard our son confess to using on the hellish night we drove in the car for hours not knowing what to do once our dtr-in-law called the police as her newlywed husband’s behavior had gotten so bizarre, his actions were becoming manic, and she was fearful. We found him at the local county hospital where the police take anyone with MH issues, except there was only a MH technician on duty at 1:00 a.m. Our son was just about to enter a taxi, completely out of his mind since the psych center would not admit him. Fortunately, our son agreed to come with us, his parents, though I begged the young technician to help our son. I pulled the young technician aside and literally begged for help as I commented” this can not be my son-this person sounds possessed, like an alien from Mars”. Little did I know this tech likely recognized another young man in psychosis from cannabis and hoped he might come out of his craziness before ” the system” took another victim..Yes, our son confessed to his parents once in our car” you won’t want to hear this but I’ve been smoking weed” one of the only factual comments from him otherwise we observed someone who was completely crazy, exhibiting psychotic behavior, sometimes crying, as well as attempting to jump out of the car as we drove helplessly not knowing where to take our first-born son. I will always refer to that night as our son’s ” nervous breakdown” though once we found a for-profit psych facility hours later, they quickly labeled ” r/o bipolar disorder, psychosis NOS” and voila, my son was sucked into ” the system” of mental death( ultimately). Did my son confess to any other substance once inside the locked unit where his parents were forbidden to go with him? Hardly, considering the staff beat that poor kid who was out of his mind, and frightened to death once inside those sealed doors. Too bad my son’s friends (countless visited him inside the locked ward for ten nights) didn’t want to confess he had used Magic Mushrooms, just once, sometime prior to his break. The hospital evaluation was based only on the drug screen, positive for THC, my son revealed nothing after his beating. Recently, one of my son’s friends told me ” that hospital so F—ED him up”. Indeed, the horror my kid was subjected to with family and friends, ourselves, having no knowledge of psychosis believing ” the system” we took our son into on the night of his breakdown was caring, compassionate and wanted to save our son. As his mom, I could not accept the dx given as I felt it was a rush to judgement especially with NO h/o severe MI on either family line. I had psych classes yrs ago in my undergrad degree, “manic- depression” was very genetic I recalled but that is how the nightmare for my son, for our family, began.
    Would his dx have been different had my son confessed beside cannabis, using one-time ‘shrooms what he eventually shared with me as he slowly recovered from psychosis despite the massive neuroleptics, mood stabilizers, benzodiazepines…ten wks until I breathed relief my son was not schizophrenic, as I felt his behavior more fit. This article says otherwise. However, the interviews involved in making the ” bipolar or awakening” videos IMO and knowledge about my son’s drug use say, to me, these drugs DO matter to their young brains!!!!!

    Did my son feel the massive meds for his ” bipolar” condition helped him? Beside gaining 55 lbs so rapidly in 4 months causing stretch marks to form around his abdomen and adversely affecting the physical therapy he resumed ( after emerging from psychosis) to his knee from a serious boating injury earlier in 2009- of course not. I observed my son as closely as I could from inside the psych unit for 10 days of sheer hell thru the 10 wks it took him to emerge from psychosis, I never saw any benefit to these toxic chemicals.

    I scoured the Internet trying to uncover what caused my son’s sudden descent into madness. I waved the many clinical studies abroad, current and past, about cannabis and psychosis…all refuted by the ” experts”.” Impossible, harmless” is what I was told about cannabis when I fought back and firmly held my ground that the brainwashing and stigmatizing labels ” bipolar for life, mentally ill for life, meds for life” mantra made no sense! As I read everything I could, plus the YouTube videos “Bipolar or Awakening” helped secure my belief my son was not bipolar, but had experienced exactly what those videos explain happen to countless other young people who use cannabis, especially as today’s THC potency has risen while the plant’s CBD level has decreased yielding a ” double whammy” effect to the young brain. Oh, how I regret not sharing those videos I played repeatedly believing my son was a victim of his unfortunate ” choices” to engage in cannabis, and the hallucinogen ‘shrooms( though not found in his drug screen done at the hospital). I ask myself since he died why didn’t I show him these videos so he could see others had the same experience. I was so confused and brainwashed myself by the health care professionals I work with who told me I must accept the ” experts” opinions. ” This is the age they break” how many times did I hear that comment. Ok, yes, but as I have had time to investigate further after my son’s death isn’t this age when the neural pruning so delicately is occurring and surely substances with psychoactive properties in THC, ‘shrooms can upset this balance?

    Wouldn’t it have been prudent in the first psych hospital and the second psych hospital 18 months later ( tragically my son returned to using cannabis despite me personally showing him and his wife the multiple research studies linking cannabis and psychosis) IF there had been a thorough history examining a young man’s stressors ( he had plenty) and then a full review of the drugs he and some of his friends used? I got my son’s HIPAA waived so the ” experts” would engage with his family. Did they, of course not. How much easier it was to not thoroughly review what led to a young man’s break, just label, massively drug, warehouse, stigmatize with a mental illness. Only recently have I come to fully understand how horrific it was for my son to live with the stigma of the MI he was assigned Oct, 2009. And yet he died 7 months after the second and last psych hospitalization where only his parents visited for 13 days he was kept imprisoned believing what he was promised: this psych hospital will give drug rehab, it’s regarded as the ” best” except despite his PPO insurance and many thousands of dollars his family had to shell out for this ” well regarded” psych/drug rehab facility- it wasn’t. Only after a lawyer subpoenaed my son’s medical file do I realize why he got so progressively worse each day once they tricked/ deceived him 36 hrs after admission to enter their locked unit. Nothing that was promised before we brought our son ” this is the rehab center to come to as we have so many misdiagnosed bipolar and schizophrenics that we teach how the substances they’ve used mask MI”. Sounded appropriate and compassionate, so I convinced my son, along with his uncle and grandfather who bought him to this facility, this place would lead him back to full recovery. All lies, blatant outright lies as he was forcibly assaulted with massive neuroleptics which led to a full blown psychosis so he could be warehoused, denied due process, given worthless services, then dumped from the locked unit once his insurance refused further stay- add up how much revenue my son brought into this center in their locked unit and the $15K his family doled out believing he would receive the finest care promised. Nope!

    I always hoped I could thank you Sean for those videos he has on YouTube. Sean’s insight into” bipolar or awakening” is IMO so informative and engaging, but sadly I never showed my son ( as the mom I was told to back off, say less, let him heal, refrain from the normal mom- son dialogue as I was too overbearing – the wisdom from some other MH ” experts” we sought to help our son find his way back to his always strong mental health prior to his break). Tragically, these same ” experts” were not aware how drugs, including today’s cannabis, are changing some young brains <25. Who believed the research I shared? My dtr-in- law (who was the queen pin of cannabis as I later found out) as my son never touched illicit drugs until they dated age 19. Sure, she indulged in MJ, as did all their friends, without adverse effects. But I've read it may be 4% of MJ users whose brains are effected with MH changes. How sad my son did not realize he played Russian roulette and lost until it was too late. Did my husband and I believe we taught our two sons never to engage in illicit drugs? Yes, and we not just parented a healthy lifestyle but modeled it, but substance use is rampant and escaping because of ?? anxiety, stressors- all too common today. I still and forever believe cannabis is the most dangerous drug, not because it remains a Schedule A classification, but its insidious changes to the young brain effect just those who are vulnerable.

    Please keep educating the masses that are being reached with " bipolar or awakening"!! And Dr. Paris Williams' book just released hits it out of the park. You guys can save so many lives…I just wish I had put this all together in time to have saved my son. I now say to others, even though my son was " just a recreational user" ask any addiction specialist what cannabis is doing to more and more young brains. How convenient that " the system" has expanded the bipolar category to fit Big Pharma's proliferation of the meds it has profited into this billion dollar empire of escalating MI. How tragic my son fell into the trap and we, his family, didn't have the tools, in time, to figure it all out.

    • Larmac

      My deepest condolences for the loss of your son. You have every right to be angry at the mental health system, for it clearly failed your family’s attempt to get the help your son needed.

      I have worked over 20 years in community mental health, with a specialty in addictions, and have seen the damage done by the take over of Biological Psychiatry and their medical model.

      My work in addictions leads me to believe that some people are very sensitive to pot (THC) and its other properties. There is clear evidence of it being a precipitating factor in depression, psychosis, and possibly what gets labeled as mania.

      The Norwegian study did NOT include pot (THC) in its study. This is interesting because Wikipedia states that pot(THC) can be classified as a stimulant, depressant, and a psychedelic. Apparently some people believe it can manifest itself with all three types of symptom presentation.

      My anecdotal experience with interviewing people over 20 years is that pot clearly has a paranoid edge to it, increases anxiety over time as well as a chronic state of depression. These symptoms can come on so slowly and subtly that people don’t connect these symptoms to the actual use of the pot; they just believe their life is going bad. And many young people smoke it a lot more than they admit to or we think they are; for many it can be “all day, every day.” And they say it is 15-18 times stronger than it was in the 60’s.

      Today’s psychiatrist are not trained in addiction and look at their patients through an entirely different prism. Even if you mention drug use they tend to believe these substance are only unmasking an underlying brain disease. And even if they believe that substance abuse may be involved the only help they tend to provide is psychotropic drugs; drugs that will only magnify the existing problems and introduce a whole set of new symptomology related to these dangerous legal drugs.

      Larmac, you and your family have a very powerful story. I hope you become more educated and continue to speak out against this oppressive system so that we can all save potential new victims in the future. All the best.

      Richard

    • Larmac,
      I´ve received hundreds of stories over my past 6 years on bipolarORwakingUP, but no story has left me feeling so completely helpless as yours. People think this debate over psychedelics is an intellectual one – the ‘bad’ closed minds vs. the ‘good’ open ones. It’s not. It’s a human one. It’s about people once full of promise now friendless, stuck on psych meds for life, unemployable, or, as in the case of your son, losing their life altogether – all because we live in a culture which now venerates psychedelics and weed.

      Unfortunately, the shiny people of today aren’t so interested in hearing your devestating story. They would rather tell themselves that yours is the exception, ‘anectodal’, the one in a million. They will say he had a ‘genetic predisposition’. People believe what they want to believe, and more often then not, they don’t want to be challenged.

      Life has put me in the unenviable position of being forced to confront a reality that is difficult to swallow. Your story is far more common than anyone realizes. The devestation of these so-called ‘mind-expanders’ reaches across America and most of the free world.

      My guess is that the devestation will only come when people realized that, by seeking drug induced ‘awakening’ they are settling for a cheap imitation of the real thing. Maybe then, this planet will truly start to wake up.

  4. I won’t go very deeply on this topic, at least right now, but I was quite interested in this class of drugs (psychedelics such as LSD or shrooms) in my youth. When you’re under influence, a doctor would quite likely diagnose you psychotic. They’re enormously powerful drugs and the experience and outcomes are largely determined by several factors (“set & setting”). Sometimes, maybe used in some types of manner, they can certainly lead to big problems.

    In any way, here’s some thoughts to explain the results. One, perhaps quite large group of people interested in these drugs are interested because they are more “intelligent” in the sense of “thinking out of box”, they like to try new things, etc. So in a sense, the people who try these drugs are kind of a self selected group. Second, these drugs are not an easy way to escape if you are having emotional problems (“heaven or hell”), there are many other drugs that are easier to escape. They can make up for hours of total hell, and maybe the people who take them for years have their marbles and life together to begin with, and that enables them to take psychedelics repeatedly. It’s also possible that some of them have improved because of psychedelics. I don’t know. Etc.

    • “Second, these drugs are not an easy way to escape if you are having emotional problems (“heaven or hell”), there are many other drugs that are easier to escape.”

      I meant “way to escape with”, “to escape with”. Sometimes I forget prepositions, maybe it’s because my native language doesn’t have them. 🙂