According to the 2020 Global Drug Survey, thousands of people are resorting to substances like LSD, MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine to tackle psychiatric illnesses and emotional distress. These psychedelics are utilized as underground self-treatment for mental health and illnesses.
A total of 110,000 people were surveyed worldwide, out of which around 6 percent, i.e. close to 6,500 people were found to utilize recreational drugs as a DIY (do it yourself) mental health treatment. This involved various kinds of situations where either an individual micro-dosed themselves with LSD or magic mushrooms or consumed these psychedelics under the witness of another person who was usually a friend or a partner in an unregulated setting. These unregulated settings were reported to either be a psychedelic retreat or a so-called “traditional healing groups”
While health care experts around the world constantly discuss the issue of whether to legalize the therapeutic use of drugs like LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin or not, these findings are a clear testament that the demand and usage of these substances are shooting up amongst consumers. Thus, Dr. Monica Barratt, who is a professor at Australia’s RMIT University and a co-author of the study, states it “may end up being filled outside of the medical setting”.
There are several factors that prompt people to use these drugs as a resort. While the most common issues include depression, anxiety, and relationship problems, it was also witnessed that people suffering from PTSD, bereavement, and problems related to substance use were adopting self-medication of these psychedelics.
Hence, the authors confirm, “people are thus using psychedelics to treat the most common mental health problems that people currently seek help for from traditional medical services.”
“The findings suggest there are many people with common preexisting conditions for whom existing treatment modalities are either insufficient or unattractive to engage with,” the authors add.
About 52 percent of people reported consuming LSD as a way to enhance their well-being. The psychedelic was also used as a method to cope up with a specific emotional worry or concern. Vice reported that respondents often utilized magic mushrooms to improve their well-being, and further also employ them as a technique to deal with their worries or get relief from a psychiatric condition.
It was witnessed that only 4.2 percent of the respondents who used psychedelics for self-treatment had reported visits to the emergency medical department. In comparison, after using ‘common’ psychedelics like LSD and mushrooms for recreation, 1% of respondents took emergency medical treatment
The authors of this study emphasized how the support of mental health professionals who are adequately trained is essential for people who are seeking self remedy through these psychedelics.
Dr Barratt, the head of the Australian arm of the survey, from the RMIT University stated, “Accredited training for psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers to do preparatory and integration sessions to help support people who take underground psychedelics for self-treatment may help bridge the gap.”
The authors further realized that discussions around the regulation and use of certain drugs in clinical settings are needed to develop as soon as possible. This will aid to sustain the rising demand from people who are evidently unable to access more traditional mental health treatments.
Hence, the authors of the study say, “The longer the delay in rolling out these treatments through clinical services the greater the risk that vulnerable people will be tempted to access these drugs in situations that carry potential greater risk of harm.”
“More scientific data is needed of course, but our data suggest that should these new treatments become available there will be a large group of people keen to engage with them”, they add.
They further state, “despite their potential utility as treatments for several mental health conditions, unplanned attempts to use these substances to deal with serious mental illness are not recommended. Positive outcomes and healing can only occur with the holistic preparation and integration of psychedelic experiences in a supportive environment with access to additional resources if needed.”