A study by the University of British Columbia (UBC) has found that the use of psychedelic substances such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behaviour.
“[These results] certainly highlight the need for further research into the potentially beneficial effects of these stigmatized substances for both individual and public health,” said Associate Professor of Psychology Zach Walsh, a co-author of the study.
The results further call into question the effectiveness of the war on drugs.
Researchers used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to explore the connection between the use of classic psychedelic substances and criminal behaviour among more than 480,000 American adult respondents over the past 13 years.
The findings were that respondents who had been using psychedelic drugs were 27 per cent less likely to have committed larceny or theft, and 22 per cent less likely of being arrested for a violent crime in the past year.
The study further found that lifetime use of other illicit but non-psychedelic substances was generally associated with an increased tendency toward criminality.
Lead researcher Professor Peter Hendricks suggested the possibility that psychedelic compounds could revolutionise the mental health field and provide effective interventions to criminal behaviour if proper field research were allowed.
“Our findings suggest the protective effects of classic psychedelic use are attributable to genuine reductions in antisocial behaviour,” he remarked. “Given the costs of criminal behaviour, the potential represented by this treatment paradigm is significant.”
In 2016, another study out of UBC found that psychedelic drugs may help curb domestic violence committed by men with other (non-psychedelic) substance abuse problems.
The study observed a sample size of 302 inmates, all of which had a history of substance use disorders, for an average of six years after they were released.
Researchers found that 42 per cent of U.S. adult male inmates who did not take psychedelic drugs were arrested for domestic battery within six years after their release, compared to 27 per cent for those who had taken drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms.
“This study, in stark contrast to prevailing attitudes that views these drugs as harmful, speaks to the public health potential of psychedelic medicine,” says Assoc. Prof. Walsh. “As existing treatments for intimate partner violence are insufficient, we need to take new perspectives such as this seriously.”
Professor Hendricks posited that anti-social behaviour is reduced as a result in the change in perspective that is often offered by psychedelic drugs.
“Although we’re attempting to better understand how or why these substances may be beneficial, one explanation is that they can transform people’s lives by providing profoundly meaningful spiritual experiences that highlight what matters most,” he said. “Often, people are struck by the realization that behaving with compassion and kindness toward others is high on the list of what matters.”
This is not the case for many legal drugs, with the National Homicide Monitoring Program finding that nearly half (47%) of homicides over a six year period classified as alcohol-related. Meanwhile, alcohol is estimated to be involved in up to half of all partner violence in Australia and 735 of partner physical assaults.
Researchers in both studies emphasised that the current climate of stigma and fear around psychedelic drug use meant that it has been difficult to pinpoint the benefits. While studies were previously undertaken from the 1950 to the 1970s, primarily to treat mental illness, the reclassification of these drugs to a controlled substance in the mid-1970s and the ramping up of ‘war on drugs’ rhetoric limited important scientific study.
In recent years there has been a renewed interest in studying psychedelic medicine, possibly as those authorising research studies (along with the rest of society) begin to recognise the failure of the war on drugs and the need to reform treatment of anti-social behaviour.
“The experiences of unity, positivity, and transcendence that characterize the psychedelic experience may be particularly beneficial to groups that are frequently marginalized and isolated, such as the incarcerated men who participated in this study,” said Walsh.
Psychedelic drug use in Australia
According to the anonymous Global Drug Survey 2017, more than three-quarters of the 57000 respondents of 115,000 surveyed had used illegal drugs, and around one in three had used them in the past month.
Of these respondents, 12.1% had used LSD while 8.6% had used magic mushrooms. The typical Australian LSD user was 20 when they first tried the drug, in their own country, at home with friends.
Most people said an important motivation in experimenting with psychedelics was curiosity, but a large majority also said they wanted to expand their minds, learn more about themselves and deepen their understanding of the world.
It is important to note that there are definite risks with taking psychedelic drugs. But this is not a reason to limit its possible therapeutic use, especially as it has been shown as having a strong correlation in reducing violent crime.
More research needs to be undertaken to gain a better understanding of the link between drugs and criminal offending.