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First use of LSD: effects on mental health

First use of LSD: effects on mental health

November 27, 2021

We currently find few studies that evaluate changes in psychological variables after a first consumption of psychedelics . This is due, among other things, to the fact that it is extremely difficult to find people who are going to start using drugs.

Usually the samples used already have a lot of experience or, if not, they are carefully selected, ensuring the total and absolute absence of any psychopathological trait or , thus reducing the external validity of the results. That is, the possibility of extrapolating the findings to the entire population.

In order to obtain information about these first consumptions, the psychologist Genís Oña, researcher of the Medical Anthropology Research Center from the Rovira i Virgili University and the recently deceased psychologist Juan Spuch, started a research project in mid-2014. The preliminary results of this project were presented at the Breaking Convention, which was held at the University of Greenwich in London .

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In context: the therapeutic potential of psychedelics

Recently, psychedelic drugs such as LSD or psilocybin are leading many journalistic or popular articles, in which potential therapeutic applications are discussed.

And is that, after several decades of prohibition in which any attempt at scientific research was nullified ipso facto, laboratories, hospitals and universities around the world are conducting new studies on these substances with the aim of developing new pharmacological therapies .

Despite this prolonged "scientific vacuum", many users came, and continue to go, to these substances for medical reasons. Not a few consumers noticed beneficial effects, often unexpected, about your anxiety, your mood or about diseases as cluster headaches after the consumption of psychedelic drugs. Due to the needs of these patients and of many others susceptible to achieve some improvement in their situation, institutions as important as Scientific American or the British Journal of PsychiatryIn recent years, they have launched express requests to reactivate this "psychedelic investigation".

So far they already knew some therapeutic potentialities of some of these substances , nevertheless, new studies have appeared that have raised new unknowns. One of them is, for example, what happens when someone who has never taken this type of drug makes his first use? We could easily find this situation in the future if these treatments were approved, as many potential patients would never have tried these drugs, and we need to know exactly what the effects of this first contact are.

How was research conducted on the effects of LSD

In their study, Genís Oña and Juan Spuch managed to reunite 9 university students who fulfilled the desired profile: they had no previous experience in the consumption of psychedelic drugs and in the near future they had planned to consume LSD.

"The objective was to respect at all times the natural course of the situation", explains Genís. "We did not want to change the consumption context thinking about administering the substance in a hospital, as in the rest of clinical trials. We wanted to see what really happens, in real situations. Something that is halfway between pragmatic essays or ethnographic methodology. "

The variables included in the study were levels of anxiety, depression, a measure of general psychopathology, a personality profile and the level of satisfaction with life. These were analyzed with standardized tests.

These dimensions were evaluated approximately one week before the consumption took place and 30 days after said consumption. A three-month follow-up was also carried out to check the stability over time of the possible changes produced. In addition, a control group that did not consume LSD was used in which the same tests were administered.

The effects of this drug in the first consumption

The first results indicated clear differences in the basal levels of some variables between the two groups. Apparently, the group that had thought to consume LSD was more depressed, with more presence of psychopathological features like obsessions , compulsions or psychoticism, and with a lower satisfaction with life compared to the control group.

This changed after consumption.The data obtained in the retest showed a significant decrease, not only in these variables in which they differed with respect to the control group, but also in others, such as the level of anxiety, neuroticism, hostility or somatization . In this way, no significant differences could be found between the two groups in any variable and in the experimental group a general significant improvement was observed after the experience.

The information obtained from the follow-up performed at three months suggests some stability in these changes, since these could still be seen significantly with respect to the basal levels. Likewise, no significant differences were found between the two groups.

The beneficial potential of LSD

Does this mean that a first LSD intake can be beneficial? It is probable. However, we must bear in mind the limitations of the study and be cautious in interpreting its results.

First, the sample was relatively small and, in addition, there was poor control of extraneous variables that can not be controlled outside of a clinical trial. Secondly, the effect of the psychedelic experience can be interpreted as a profoundly positive experience, since for all the subjects who consumed LSD it represented a unique and unrepeatable experience. In fact, more than half of them rated it as one of the best experiences of their life . "Perhaps this effect," Genís Oña explains, "is comparable to other deeply positive experiences that we experience only very occasionally, such as traveling to a distant country or spending a day at an amusement park."

Anyway, these results seem legitimize the scientific investigation of the therapeutic potential of these substances , because if we can observe these beneficial effects without having any psychotherapeutic context, the potential of these substances using an adequate context seems very promising.

Many details of the study had to be ignored due to its complexity, but the full article published in the Journal of Transpersonal Research.

Psychedelic Fear: History of Mental Illness (November 2021).

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