Psychedelic perceptions: mental health service user attitudes to psilocybin therapy

This survey study (n=99) examined the attitude of mental health service users towards psilocybin therapy in Ireland and found that most respondents were supportive of research into psilocybin therapy, while support for therapy itself came mostly from respondents with non-religious beliefs and prior recreational experience with psychedelics.

Abstract

Introduction: Despite the rapid advance of psychedelic science and possible translation of psychedelic therapy into the psychiatric clinic, very little is known about mental health service user attitudes.

Objectives: To explore mental health service user attitudes to psychedelics and psilocybin therapy.

Methods: A questionnaire capturing demographics, diagnoses, previous psychedelic and other drug use, and attitudes to psychedelics and psilocybin therapy was distributed to mental health service users.

Results: Ninety-nine participants completed the survey (52% female, mean age 42 years). The majority (72%) supported further research, with 59% supporting psilocybin as a medical treatment. A total of 27% previously used recreational psilocybin, with a male preponderance (p = 0.01). Younger age groups, those with previous psychedelic experience, and those with non-religious beliefs were more likely to have favourable attitudes towards psilocybin. A total of 55% of the total sample would accept as a treatment if doctor recommended, whereas 20% would not. Fewer people with depression/anxiety had used recreational psychedelics (p = 0.03) but were more likely to support government funded studies (p = 0.02). A minority (5%) of people with conditions (psychosis and bipolar disorder) that could be exacerbated by psilocybin thought it would be useful for them. One fifth of the total sample viewed psychedelics as addictive and unsafe even under medical supervision. Concerns included fear of adverse effects, lack of knowledge, insufficient research, illegality, and relapse if medications were discontinued.

Conclusions: The majority supported further research into psilocybin therapy. Younger people, those with previous recreational psychedelic experience, and those with non-religious beliefs were more likely to have favourable attitudes towards psilocybin therapy.”

Authors: Kate Corrigan, Maeve Haran, Conor McCandliss, Roisin McManus, Shannon Cleary, Rebecca Trant, Yazeed Kelly, Kathryn Ledden, Gavin Rush, Veronica O’Keane & John R. Kelly

Notes

When psychedelics become available as medicines, will the general public accept them? And more specifically, will patients accept them? If they don’t, then the whole enterprise of researching these compounds is mute. If they do, researchers and companies will know that there is a market to service. This survey study asked those who use mental health services about their attitudes regarding psychedelics as medicines.

The researchers sent participants a survey (via the post because of Covid) and got almost all of them to send it back. The participants in the study were suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, or personality disorders (e.g. OCD). Only a third of participants knew what psychedelics were, and that same percentage (but not per see the same respondents) thought it could be a good treatment option for them.

The researchers also found the following

  • 72% supported further research
  • 59% supported psilocybin as a medical treatment
  • 55% would accept it as a treatment if a doctor recommended it

Among the 99 participants, those who were younger, less religious, or who had used psychedelics before responded more positively than the average. So case closed? Not so fast. Of those surveyed, 20% viewed psychedelics as addictive and unsafe, even when used under medical supervision. There is still a lot of educating to be done.

Introduction

The introduction of this paper makes a good distinction between recreational and academic/therapeutic use of psychedelics. Whereas in the first group 7.6% had sought treatment after a bad trip (in their lifetime), the second group reported less than 1% mild and transient adverse events.

Other studies that have polled attitudes find the following

  • Amongst American college students (n=124), 84% support further research into psychedelics (Wildberger et al., 2017)
  • American psychiatrists (n=324) are partially (42%) in agreement that psychedelics can help treat mental health disorders (Barnett et al., 2018)
    • But 25% of them think they are unsafe, even under medical supervision
    • Yet 80% of them do support further research
  • The Global Drug Survey finds that 59% of those who had used psychedelics before would accept them as treatment options (Winstock & Johnson, 2019)
    • Which is much more than the 18% of those who hadn’t used psychedelics before

Methods

Those surveyed were ‘users of mental health services’ (or in other words, possibly the target audience for psychedelic therapies).

Their average age was 42, about 50/50 male/female, and most of them were Irish.

The participants were struggling with depression or anxiety (36%), bipolar disorder (12%), psychotic disorders (17%), personality disorders (14%), addiction (AUD/SUD, 19%), or eating disorders (1%).

A third (35%) was aware of psychedelics, and about a quarter (26%) knew about psilocybin (magic mushrooms).

Next to 55% being willing to accept it as a treatment, the same percentage would be willing to go of medications to do so.

More than half (52%) thought that the government should fund studies into the use of psilocybin as medicine.

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