Survey: Psychiatrists More Optimistic About Hallucinogen Therapies


Hallucinogen therapies are gaining a lot of traction with consumers, as well as with psychiatrists; as per the results of a new study.  

Study on psychiatrists and hallucinogen therapies – setup

A new study, entitled American Psychiatrists’ Opinions About Classic Hallucinogens and Their Potential Therapeutic Applications: A 7-Year Follow-Up Survey, is a follow-up study to see the changing opinions of psychiatrists toward newer hallucinogen treatments, like psychedelics. It was recently published in Psychedelic Medicine.

The original study on psychiatrists’ opinions toward psychedelic and hallucinogen therapies, was conducted by the same group of researchers, back in 2016. This was before the mass trend toward legalization and decriminalization of these substances; and was even before the bulk of legal cannabis industries opened. It suffices to say that a lot has changed since this time; and this follow-up was meant to see how the changes in the years in between, have affected how those who treat mental disorders, feel about using such therapies.

The study assesses the level of optimism of US psychiatrists, toward using these treatments. The second study looked at the years 2022-2023; the first, at 2016. The same methodology was used for both the first study, and its follow-up. A survey was emailed to 1,000 members of the American Psychiatric Association; who were picked randomly. This included 750 attending psychiatrists, and 250 resident-fellows. For the second survey, this collection took place at the end of 2022 into the beginning of 2023.

Current responses were measured against 2016 responses using a non-parametric trend test. Investigators also used a multivariate logistic regression model to predict agreement with the incorporation of such therapies into respondent practices.

What did the study find?

Not everyone who receives a survey in life, actually fills it out. In this case, 13.1% of those who received the survey, completed it. This made for 131 participants. The respondents for this follow-up were identified as having similar demographics to respondents in the 2016 original survey.

According to study results, 80.9% believed either moderately or strongly, that hallucinogenic treatments are a promising therapeutic measure for several different psychiatric disorders. 60.8% also thought these treatments show promise for those suffering from substance use disorders as well. The latter means an interest in using these drugs for things like alcohol and opioid addiction.

Even greater percentages wanted to see more research into these topics, signaling an interest in them, even if not to the point of fully approving them just yet. 93.9% strongly or moderately desired more research into their use for psychiatric disorders; while 88.6% wanted to see more research concerning research into their use for substance use issues. In terms of federal funding for clinical trials to better understand these topics; 84.7% supported this for psychiatric disorders, while 80.9% did for drug abuse problems.

These numbers show increased optimism for these therapies in comparison to the 2016 survey. They also show a decrease in fears over using these treatments for patients. Results showed that 50.4% showed a moderate to strong desire to include psychedelic and hallucinogenic-assisted therapies into their own practices.

Investigators concluded from the new survey, that “Our data reveal a striking positive shift in attitudes toward the therapeutic potential of hallucinogens among American psychiatrists since 2016, with a majority of responding psychiatrists planning to incorporate hallucinogen-assisted therapy into their practice if regulatory approval is granted.”

More psychiatrists interested in hallucinogen therapies
More psychiatrists interested in hallucinogen therapies

Big changes from 2016

When looking at a comparison like this, it’s important to know about the original study. After all, we want to know what this new comparison, is a comparison to. The original study, called A Survey of American Psychiatrists’ Attitudes Toward Classic Hallucinogens, collected data in 2016, but was published in 2018, in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.

At the time of information collection, the idea of hallucinogenic therapies had been reintroduced to society; but was still way far behind our current acceptance level and understanding. There was considerably less recent research on these topics, at the time that the original survey was given out.

This survey was also sent to 1,000 randomly selected members of the American Psychiatric Association; with the same breakdown of resident-fellows (250) and attending psychiatrists (750). One big difference is that the response rate was much higher for the original; with 32.4% filling out the survey. This means 324 respondents, which is way more than the 131 who answered the follow-up.

According to the researchers about this survey, “Respondents tended to perceive hallucinogens as potentially hazardous and appropriately illegal for recreational purposes.” Many fewer saw hallucinogenic therapies as a positive form of psychiatric treatment; amounting to what researchers called a “large minority,” who did express some optimism.

This investigation found that resident-fellows, and male respondents, were more likely to have greater optimism toward using these treatments, and less overall fear; than female respondents and attending psychiatrists. The results also indicate that younger respondents were more positive about these treatments; which might indicate a generational divide when it comes to the acceptance of these therapies. Younger respondents may have experienced less negative jargon surrounding these drugs and their therapeutic uses, than older respondents.

Are hallucinogenic and psychedelic therapies the same?

If you’ll notice, both study titles involve the word ‘hallucinogens,’ not ‘psychedelics.’ However, in a lot of media reporting, its only the term ‘psychedelics,’ that’s used. What’s the difference? The truth is, there is overlap in the meaning of these words; but they do not mean the same thing.

Psychedelic therapy is one form of hallucinogenic treatment
Psychedelic therapy is one form of hallucinogenic treatment

Basically, all psychedelics are hallucinogens, but not all hallucinogens are psychedelics. This automatically means that all psychedelic therapies, are included when looking at hallucinogen treatments; which encompass psilocybin (from magic mushrooms), DMT, mescaline, and LSD. Even MDMA, which is often included in the ‘psychedelics’ category, is technically classified as a ‘psycho-stimulant.’ However, its still relevant to this study, since it’s a hallucinogen. ‘Psychedelics’ is often used as a catch-all phrase these days, to represent hallucinogenic drugs in general.

Psychedelics are one of three main classes of hallucinogens; together with deliriants (like datura or Benadryl), and dissociative (which include ketamine, PCP, and DXM.) They are generally separated by their mode of action in the brain, and the neurotransmitters they affect most. Psychedelics cause the biggest force at serotonin receptors, deliriants do at acetylcholine receptors, and dissociative drugs at NMDA receptors. These are simplifications, as the drugs can affect different parts of the brain; but it gives an idea of the classification breakdown.

Other hallucinogens exist, which are not in these categories. Like MDMA, which for the most part works similarly to psychedelics, but with a greater stimulant effect; salvia, which affects opioid and dopamine receptors; and amanita mushrooms, which have a strong effect at GABA receptors. These are up-and-coming substances, but the plant world offers tons of other compounds; some of the names of which, are barely recognizable to the public. And some, like blue lotus, and ibogaine, which are starting to enter the conversation, too.

Hallucinogen drugs are defined as “psychoactive substances that produce powerful alterations in perception, mood, and various cognitive processes.” A hallucination, is an experience through the senses, of something that is not real, or altered from reality. This means seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or feeling something, in a way that is not actually happening. A hallucinogen is any drug from any class, which produces these effects.

Conclusion

Plenty of psychiatrists are still not up for using hallucinogen therapies, like psychedelics, to treat psychiatric issues. And plenty are interested, but want more information. What is most interesting about the current follow-up, is the sheer change in attitude within less than a decade of time. If the increase was so great from 2016 to 2023; it seems quite possible that by 2030, these therapies will be a norm in the psychiatric treatment world.

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