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Dramatic Rise in Hallucinogen Use Among Young Adults

With the exception of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), use of hallucinogens surged between 2018 and 2021 among adults younger than 30 years in the United States, new research shows.

In 2018, the prevalence of young adults’ past-year use of non-LSD hallucinogens was 3.4%. By 2021, it had jumped to 6.6%.

The increase in non-LSD hallucinogen use occurred while LSD use remained stable at around 4% in 2018 and 2021.

“While non-LSD hallucinogen use remains substantially less prevalent than use of substances such as alcohol and cannabis, a doubling of prevalence in just three years is a dramatic increase and raises possible public health concerns,” co-author Megan Patrick, PhD, with the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, Ann Arbor, said in a news release.

The results were published online June 7 in the journal Addiction.

Health Concerns

The estimates are derived from the Monitoring the Future study, which includes annual assessments of adolescent and adult health in the US.

The analysis focused on 11,304 persons (52% female) aged 9 to 30 years from the US general population who were interviewed between 2018 and 2021.

Participants were asked about past 12-month use of LSD, as well as use of non-LSD hallucinogens, such as psilocybin.

From 2018 to 2021, past 12-month use of LSD remained relatively stable; it was 3.7% in 2018 and 4.2% in 2021.

However, non-LSD hallucinogen use increased in prevalence from 3.4% to 6.6% from 2018 to 2021.

Across years, the odds of non-LSD use were higher among males, White people, and individuals from households with higher parental education ― a proxy for higher socioeconomic status.

The most commonly used non-LSD hallucinogen was psilocybin.

The survey did not ask whether young adults used non-LSD hallucinogens for therapeutic or medical reasons.

“The use of psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs for a range of therapeutic uses is increasing, given accumulating yet still preliminary data from randomized trials on clinical effectiveness,” lead author Katherine Keyes, PhD, with Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said in the release.

“With increased visibility for medical and therapeutic use, however, potentially comes diversion and unregulated product availability, as well as a lack of understanding among the public of potential risks,” Keyes added.

“However, approved therapeutic use of psychedelics under a trained health professional’s care remains uncommon in the US, thus the trends we observe here are undoubtedly in nonmedical and nontherapeutic use,” Keyes noted.

Patrick said the increased use of hallucinogens raises “concern for young adult health” and is not without risk. While hallucinogen dependence has historically been rare in the US population, it could become more common as use increases, she noted.

The researchers will continue to track these trends to see whether the increases continue.

“We need additional research, including about the motives for hallucinogen use and how young adults are using these substances, in order to be able to mitigate the associated negative consequences,” Patrick said.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health. Keyes and Patrick have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Addiction. Published online June 7, 2023. Abstract

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  • Posted on June 13, 2023