Lifetime use of psychedelics is associated with better mental health indicators during the COVID-19 pandemic

This survey (n=5618) found that those who used psychedelics (32% of the sample) had increased positive affect and more resilient personality traits (e.g. plasticity) during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Background and aims The COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences represent a major challenge to the mental health and well-being of the general population. Building on previous work on the potential long-term benefits of psychedelics, we hypothesized that lifetime use of these drugs could be linked to better mental health indicators in the context of the ongoing pandemic.

Methods Two anonymous online surveys were conducted between April and June 2020, including questions about lifetime experience with psychedelics and other psychoactive drugs, and psychometric scales designed to measure personality traits, anxiety, negative, and positive affect, well-being, and resilience. Principal component analysis was applied to divide the sample into groups of subjects based on their drug use reports.

Results Five thousand six hundred eighteen participants (29.15 ± 0.12 years, 71.97% female) completed both surveys and met the inclusion criteria, with 32.43% of the sample reporting at least one use of a psychedelic drug. Preliminary analyses showed that certain psychedelics were linked to improved mental health indicators, while other psychoactive drugs exhibited the opposite behavior. Lifetime psychedelic use was linked to increased openness and decreased conscientiousness, and to higher scores of positive affect. The reported number of past psychedelic experiences predicted higher scores of the secondary personality trait beta factor, which has been interpreted as a measure of plasticity. No significant associations between lifetime use of psychedelics and indicators of impaired mental health were observed.

Conclusion We did not find evidence of an association between lifetime use of psychedelics and poor mental health indicators. Conversely, experience with psychedelic drugs was linked to increased positive affect and to personality traits that favor resilience and stability in the light of the ongoing crisis.”

Authors: Federico Cavanna, Carla Pallavicini, Virginia Milano, Juan Cuiule, Rocco Di Tella, Pablo González & Enzo Tagliazucchi


This study is observational and not randomized. This means that we should be very careful with not interpreting correlation for causation. People who use psychedelics may be richer, live in a sunny place, be healthier, or have any other number of characteristics that could protect them from the mental health implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The same could be said for those who use other psychoactive drugs (e.g. heroin). They may live in a poorer neighborhood, have more external stressors, etc. Although other papers point towards tangible positive outcomes of psychedelics (e.g. the increased plasticity also mentioned here), this study can only be a starting point for such further research.

This study was a web-based survey that was conducted in Argentina during the Covid lockdown period. Of those who participated, approximately 1/3rd had used psychedelics. This was mostly LSD (30%) and mushrooms (10%).

The data from the study can be found here.

As expected, the personality traits openness and extraversion were higher for those who used psychedelics more often. But scores on conscientiousness decreased with greater use (between subjects).

A double dissociation effect is apparent: some psychedelic drugs (mainly psilocybin mushrooms but also LSD and, to a lesser degree, ayahuasca) were associated with lower scores of dimensions linked to mental health impairment (state/trait anxiety, negative affect) and with higher scores of dimensions linked to well-being and resilience (mainly positive affect, autonomy, social ties, and well-being) …”

This study adds to earlier studies (e.g. Krebs & Johansen, 2013) that show no negative correlation between the use of psychedelics and mental health. Or to be more precise, which show a positive relationship between the two.


We conducted two anonymous online surveys to examine the association between lifetime use of psychedelics and mental health indicators in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We found that certain psychedelics were linked to improved mental health indicators, while other psychoactive drugs exhibited the opposite behavior.


Psychedelic drugs are found in nature in multiple species of plants, fungi and animals. They have been used for centuries in medicinal, religious and ceremonial practices, but were classified as Schedule 1 drugs in the 1950s and 1960s, which effectively shut down most research on these substances and their potential clinical uses.

Studies have found no link between lifetime use of psychedelic drugs and increased rate of mental health issues. Expert panels have consistently ranked psychedelics as some of the least harmful recreational drugs, with safety profiles substantially better than those of widely available and consumed drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco.

We investigated the relationship between lifetime psychedelic use and multiple mental health indicators in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and found that individuals who reported past psychedelic use had a negative impact on mental health indicators.


A two-part anonymous Internet-based survey was conducted between April 2020 and June 2020, to understand the relationship between psychoactive drug use and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to determine personality traits.

Questionnaires and scales

The full survey is available online and includes questions about sociodemographics, past use of psychoactive compounds, and personality.

The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) measures state anxiety and trait anxiety. It comprises 40 items and is based on a 4-point Likert scale.

Data processing and analysis

Data from two questionnaires was merged according to a unique identifier, and only participants older than 18 years were retained for subsequent analysis.

Subject’s answers, gender, and age were scored to obtain a z-score. This score was converted to a uniform scale between 0 and 10.

We performed a principal component analysis (PCA) on the data to reduce the dimensionality of the data and avoid the issue of non-independent samples. We then performed an analysis of variance followed by Student’s t-tests to determine statistically significant differences between groups of users assigned to the different principal components.


During the data collection window, 11,365 individuals answered the first part of the survey and 157,101 answered the second part. Of these, 10,722 answered both parts of the survey and 5,104 were excluded as they failed to meet the inclusion criteria.

The demographic information for each PCA group is summarized in Table 1, and Table 2 shows the results of each psychometric subscale included in the survey. Figure 1 summarizes the results of the BFI questionnaire, the STAI, PANAS, BIEPS, and RS scales. The results indicate that positive affect, well-being, and resilience scores were considerably below zero. Figure 1D and E show that the openness and extraversion traits increase as a function of reported uses, while conscientiousness shows the opposite behavior. Resilience and well-being were positively correlated with state/trait anxiety, negative affect, and neuroticism, and negatively correlated with state/trait anxiety, negative affect, and neuroticism.

We performed a preliminary analysis of data from users who reported experience with different drugs, and found that some drugs were associated with higher scores of well-being and resilience, while others were associated with higher scores of mental health impairment.

We divided the sample into groups based on three principal components: recreational, entheogen, and prescription. Subjects with high scores in the entheogen component were only included in the “entheogen” group, and those with high scores in the prescription component were only included in the “prescription” group.

We first applied an ANOVA test to determine the effect of user group on BFI scores and psychometric scales, and then applied a pairwise Student’s t-test to determine whether there were significant differences between the four groups of participants.

The study found that the “prescription” group had increased openness scores, increased neuroticism, and lower positive affect than the “recreational” group. The study also found that the beta factor increased with the reported number of lifetime psychedelic experiences.


Our results confirmed the relationship between personality traits and mental health indicators, with neuroticism correlating with negative emotion and state anxiety, and with beta and alpha factors correlating with well-being and resilience.

We applied principal component analysis to group subjects according to their experiences with psychoactive drugs. This classification highlighted the specific effects of certain psychedelic drugs, which likely transcend their pharmacological action.

We confirmed that experience with psychedelic drugs was associated with changes in personality traits indexing the experience of novelty. Openness and extraversion were positively correlated with the reported number of psychedelic drug uses, and lifetime use of psychedelic drugs were linked to significant increases in these traits.

The alpha and beta factors were significantly increased in the psychedelic users groups, and the reported number of psychedelic uses correlated with both traits. These factors have been interpreted as measures of social desirable traits and resilience in the light of challenging situations.

Certain considerations can be drawn in regards to the link between psychedelics and changes in personality traits. This link could have a causal effect on the reported number of psychedelic drug uses, and could also offer psychotherapeutic potential.

The most stable factors in the study were extraversion, agreableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness, and their second order factors alpha and beta. These factors influence the cognitive style that in turn influences the self-perceived processes of well-being and resilience.

This study had several limitations, including the fact that it was not possible to corroborate the information given by the participants and that variables outside the scope of the study might have influenced the results.

We investigated the relationship between mental health, personality and past psychedelic use during the COVID-19 pandemic. We found no association, and evidence supporting a more resilient and stable personality structure in those subjects who reported repeated use of certain psychedelic compounds.


Authors associated with this publication with profiles on Blossom

Enzo Tagliazucchi
Enzo Tagliazucchi is the head of the Consciousness, Culture and Complexity Group at the Buenos Aires University, a Professor of Neuroscience at the Favaloro University, and a Marie Curie fellow at the Brain and Spine Institute in Paris. His main interest is the study of human consciousness as embedded within society and culture.


Institutes associated with this publication

University of Buenos Aires
UBA is home to the Consciousness, Culture and Complexity & Phalaris Labs. Both labs are led by Enzo Tagliazucchi

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