Experience with psychedelics reduced post-traumatic stress symptoms, depression, anxiety and stress, researchers found in a cross-sectional, observational study published in Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy. This is the first study to explore how psychedelics can improve mental health symptoms among black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) who have experienced racial trauma.
The researchers recruited BIPOC adult participants from the United States and Canada who had taken a dose of a classic psychedelic that produced moderate to strong psychoactive effects and had an experience after taking the substance that they believed contributed to “relief from the challenging effects of ethnic discrimination.” Participants reported on their experience with racial trauma, psychedelic use, and mental health symptoms.
The researchers administered the general ethnic discrimination scale (GEDS) to the final sample of 313 participants to evaluate the frequency and severity of discrimination they had experienced due to their race/ethnicity before the psychedelic experience. They also used the psychological insight questionnaire (PIQ), the mystical experience questionnaire (MEQ), the challenging experience questionnaire (CEQ) to assess the psychedelic experience and the depression anxiety and stress scale (DASS21) and the trauma symptoms of discrimination scale (TSDS) to evaluate symptoms 30 days before and 30 days after the psychedelic experience.
The researchers conducted a canonical correlation analysis (CCA), a form of multivariate analysis that allows inclusion of multiple related variables, to evaluate the potential dimensional relations between experiences seen in the PIQ, MEQ, and CEQ and between trauma symptoms change score (TSDSdiff), depression symptoms change score (DASS-21-Ddiff), anxiety symptoms change score (DASS-21-Adiff), and stress symptoms change score (DASS-21-Stressdiff).
Participants reported a significant (P <.001) and moderate (d = -.45) decrease in traumatic stress (M = -8.6, standard deviation (SD) = 16.2). They also reported decreases in depression (d = -.52), anxiety (d = – .53), and stress (d = – .32) (all P <.001) symptoms from before to after the psychedelic experience, and 58% of participants reported that their relevant psychedelic experience was at least 3 years ago.
Challenging experiences during the psychedelic experience, such as fears of death or insanity and isolation, reduced the positive effects of the experience, as seen in the CCA.
The researchers said that psychedelic therapists and guides can help clients to reduce the likelihood of unhelpful challenging experiences. Preparing before the experience by discussing the range of feelings that might emerge, using connecting techniques, such as therapeutic touch, during the experience, and responsive caring to address acute feelings of grief or paranoia, may benefit the patient.
Limitations of the study included crowdsourced recruitment methods and possible positive bias as solely people who reported benefits related to their psychedelic experience were included.
“Likewise, it would also be important for therapists and guides to have training in culturally informed approaches and/or be ethnically matched with clients, which would necessitate the training of more diverse psychedelic-assisted therapists,” the researchers said.
Disclosure: Two study authors declared affiliations with the industry. Please see the original reference for a full list of authors’ disclosures.
Williams MT, Davis AK, Xin Y, et al. People of color in North America report improvements in racial trauma and mental health symptoms following psychedelic experiences. Drugs. Published online December 10, 2020. doi:10.1080/09687637.2020.1854688