Over the last decade, there has been promising research into the benefits of psychedelics for mental health. However, markedly less attention has been paid to their impact on the health of the body. A recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests a positive correlation between the use of psychedelics and improved physical health.
Researchers analyzed data compiled through the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2015 to 2018. About 14% of the 171,766 adult respondents reported past psychedelics use. The survey also asked respondents to self-report physical health characteristics such as body mass index, perceived overall health, and cancer or heart conditions within the previous 12 months.
Not only did those who had previously used psychedelics report fewer instances of obesity, they also enjoyed better overall health compared to those who said they’d never used psychedelic substances. Similarly, a decreased incidence of cancer and heart problems was noted in those with past psychedelic experience.
“The association between lifetime classic psychedelic use and having a heart condition and/or cancer in the past 12 months approached conventional levels of significance, with lower odds of having a heart condition and/or cancer in the past 12 months for respondents who had tried a classic psychedelic at least once,” wrote the study authors.
Although the study findings show an undeniable correlation, the cause has not been determined.
“While the acute transcendent experience occasioned by classic psychedelics may presumably induce long-term changes in health behaviour that contribute to better physical health, it is plausible that there are other key mechanisms through which classic psychedelics could influence physical health,” write the study authors. “Including improvements on various indices of mental health beyond the simple absence of psychological distress.”
“The findings suggest that lifetime classic psychedelic use is associated with a range of physical health outcomes. However, caution should be exercised in inferring causality,” Otto Simonsson of the University of Oxford, co-author of the study, told PsyPost. He explained to Lucid News that the findings were in line with their hypothesis, but more research is necessary to determine causality.
One limitation of the study was that the data was not controlled for “frequency of classic psychedelic use, dose used or context of use. The present study could therefore not evaluate frequency, dose or context-specific relationships between classic psychedelic use and physical health markers.”
Simonsson stressed that more research is necessary. It is yet undetermined whether the use of psychedelics is responsible for better overall health or, conversely, if healthier people choose to use psychedelics. Similarly, the mechanism of action that results in improved health is unclear, and further research is needed to determine the cause-and-effect relationship.
“Our results will hopefully serve as a springboard for rigorous randomized controlled trials on the long-term effects of classic psychedelics on physical health outcomes,” said Simonsson.
Image: Nicki Adams