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Psychedelic use is linked to several specific psychological strengths, study finds

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A new study found that naturalistic psychedelic use was associated with certain psychological strengths, with psychedelics having positive effects on mental well-being compared to other substances such as cannabis and alcohol. suggesting that it is possible. The survey results are International Wellbeing Journalindicating that self-transcending experiences play an important role in predicting positive outcomes of psychedelic use.

The motivation behind the new research was sparked by a resurgence of research and clinical interest in classic psychedelics such as psilocybin, DMT/ayahuasca, LSD, mescaline, and similar drugs. These substances are known by a common pharmacodynamic mechanism as agonists of the 5-HT2a receptor and have shown promising results in experimental and clinical trials. They are widely used in the general population, with an estimated lifetime prevalence of about 10%, equivalent to about 32 million people in the United States alone.

“It’s not entirely clear whether clinical trial data for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy are applicable to naturalist use,” said study co-author Trey Brasher, a Ph.D. explained. “Since only a minority of psychedelic experiences occur in clinical settings, we became interested in a more realistic understanding of psychedelic use and its potential impact in the general population. .”

Previous research has demonstrated that classical psychedelics can induce long-lasting trait changes in certain aspects of personality. However, most of these findings came from single psychedelic experiences in the context of clinical trials, and their effects in the broader population are relatively unknown. This study aims to replicate altered traits in clinical trials using larger survey-based samples to measure extended traits that may be associated with psychedelic use. bottom.

“Research in adjunctive psychedelic therapy has seen a resurgence in recent years, producing promising results, showing it can bring lasting positive change to people with depression and anxiety,” co-authors said. One Stockton University professor, Marcello Spinella, said: “However, previous research had not yet explored how psychedelics affect many psychological strengths, so psychedelics benefit people more than we thought. We have addressed this question in three series of studies.”

“I have had many classic psychedelic experiences throughout my adult life that have been pivotal in shaping my view of being, myself and society,” said co-author and researcher at Stockton University. added David S. Rosen, “They were some of the most important moments in my life, and those lessons were long lasting.”

“This instilled in me the belief that psychedelics and self-transcendence can have a huge positive impact not only on clinical patients, but also on the general public. We see an opportunity to move the second wave forward by focusing on how it can benefit large segments of the general population in ways that are different and less obvious than therapeutic effects.”

The researchers also noted that psychedelic research can be biased toward positive results due to participant recruitment that relies on self-selection and targeted social media advertising campaigns. Studies often solicit participants only from psychedelic-related Internet forums.

They aimed to overcome these biases by using a broader sample that included both users and non-users. Undergraduate students at Northeastern universities used email and social media to recruit participants. These students received a small amount of course credit for their participation in research, including recruitment of participants. Students could not only fill out the survey themselves, but also share the link to the survey with unrelated individuals. However, the students did not know the purpose of their research.

Researchers found that psychedelic use was associated with increased psychological intensity and decreased maladaptive psychological traits. This was observed in all three of his studies involving a total of 3,157 participants.

“Psychedelics are associated with higher levels of psychological strength such as mindfulness, gratitude, awe, self-transcendence, kindness and gratitude, and lower levels of negative traits such as greed, hatred and envy. ,” Spinella told Cypost.

Traits associated with psychedelic use are largely in the adaptive direction, indicating positive effects on overall well-being. In contrast, patterns in cannabis and alcohol use showed complex associations with psychological traits.

“The most surprising result from this study was how uniformly psychedelic drug use adaptively affected psychological traits in all three studies,” Rosen said. rice field.

“Psychological strength in the general population associated with psychedelic use not only mirrors what was seen in clinical trial data, but is significantly more positive than other commonly used psychotropic substances. It was associated with a different psychological measure,” Brasher added.

Mediation analysis revealed that the relationship between psychedelic use and psychological strength was mediated entirely by self-transcendence. The concept of self-transcendence refers to experiences in which an individual perceives a sense of transcending or beyond their normal sense of self, often associated with a sense of interconnectedness and mystical types of experiences. . The new findings support previous evidence linking experiences of self-transcendence to positive outcomes of psychedelic use in both clinical and naturalistic settings.

“If the dose of classical psychedelics is sufficient to create a self-transcending or ego-dissolving experience, it can be of great benefit to those seeking to expand their consciousness and thinking. Yes, the shift in consciousness from classic psychedelics can lead to increased well-being,” Rosen told Cypost.

Intentions of psychedelic use also influenced the observed benefits. Participants who reported using psychedelics for personal growth showed more adaptive psychological profiles compared to those who reported using psychedelics for fun or recreation.

“The motivation behind why people use psychedelics can also be important,” Spinella explained. “People who reported using them for personal growth or spiritual purposes showed better well-being than those who used them for recreational purposes.”

The researchers also compared the psychological profiles of psychedelic users to those of cannabis and alcohol users. Psychedelic users showed a substantially different profile characterized by more adaptive traits, but the effects of cannabis and alcohol on psychological traits were more ambiguous.

In addition, the study controlled for potential confounders by adjusting for demographic variables and other substance use covariates. This adjustment helps isolate specific effects of psychedelic use on psychological traits and mitigates the effects of alternative explanations.

“How consistent are the benefits of psychedelics across the strengths studied, even after adjusting for demographics, other psychotropic drug use, meditation experience, and people’s beliefs about whether psychedelics are psychologically beneficial?” I was amazed at how many there were,” Spinella said. “This consistently beneficial relationship was not seen with alcohol or cannabis use, with half to two-thirds lower intensity among past users.”

However, it is important to recognize that this study has methodological limitations. One significant limitation is the reliance on self-reported data. Self-report data are subject to various biases, including recall bias, where participants may incorrectly remember and report their past drug use. Additionally, participants may deliberately downplay or exaggerate the use of certain substances, which can lead to measurement errors.

“We don’t know the direction of causation because this is not an experimental effort,” Spinella said. “This study lays the foundation for future research to explore this promising field. Psychedelics are illegal in many places and reckless use can lead to unpleasant travel experiences. Used for the right reasons under the right circumstances, the experience can be of lasting benefit.”

“Samples were collected primarily through psychology departments at universities in the northeastern United States,” added Rosen. “The majority of the sample also lived in New Jersey, so there may be some degree of geographic bias that is not representative of the general population.”

“I think future research should investigate how the magnitude and duration of psychological intensity increases based on differences in recency, intensity and quantity of classical psychedelic experiences.” said Rosen.

The researchers explained that the differences in psychological traits observed in people who use psychedelics can be explained by two competing ideas. One idea suggests that people who are already mentally strong are more likely to gravitate to psychedelics, and that their strength is not caused by psychedelic use, but rather contributes to their decision to use psychedelics. increase. This is called the “gravitational hypothesis”.

Another idea is that taking psychedelic drugs can lead to significant changes in psychological traits, meaning that the drug itself causes an increase in strength. This is known as the “transformation hypothesis”.

Although it is not possible to definitively determine which hypothesis is correct in this study, the results suggest that the gravity hypothesis is unlikely. This is because people who use psychedelics are more likely to use other drugs as well, indicating that the decision to use psychedelics is not based solely on their psychological strength.

Several clinical studies have also provided evidence that psychedelics can cause lasting changes in psychological traits. This supports the transformative hypothesis and suggests that the drug itself can cause long-term strength changes, the researchers say in their study.

“The human brain learns, optimizes and adjusts based on our understanding of the rules, goals, values ​​and choices available within society and its general framework,” Rosen told Cypost. . “The problem with this is that those in power often have no incentive to align themselves with the public and put undue psychological pressure on them. This is particularly evident in Western societies, which focus on the success of social media and capitalism/materialism.

“Unfortunately, it feels like the public is being treated like a customer first, with governments, religious groups, and corporate bodies targeting our attention and our wallets. Beyond incentives, challenging psychological well-being is the countless hours we spend on various social media platforms comparing our well-being to our “peers” and other people around the world. Technology has brought us incredible advances and has connected humanity across the globe, while leaving us more isolated than ever. “

“Our current culture, especially in the United States, has increased the abyss of loneliness, depression and anxiety,” Rosen continued. “Unfortunately, it is up to the individual to challenge popular ideologies, technologies and ways of life. It’s up to the individual to explore their path of consciousness, and I believe that classical psychedelics help improve the way one sees oneself and the world around oneself (all living things).”

the study, “Psychedelics and psychological strengthby Trey Brasher, David Rosen, and Marcello Spinella.

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