Survey Shows ‘Striking Positive Shift in Attitudes’ Toward Psychedelics Among Psychiatrists

If psychiatrists feel good about psychedelics, so do we.

Psychiatrists in the United States are increasingly receptive to psychedelic therapy, according to a newly released survey.

The survey, published last month in the journal Psychedelic Medicine, revealed a notable shift in attitudes among psychiatrists toward hallucinogens and hallucinogen-assisted therapy that has taken place in the last several years.

“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,” the researchers wrote in their conclusions. 

The researchers first conducted the survey in 2016. In the follow-up survey published last month, they said that respondents were “demographically similar to the 2016 respondents.”

“We e-mailed our survey instrument to 1,000 randomly selected American Psychiatric Association members—250 resident-fellows and 750 attending psychiatrists—in late 2022 and early 2023. We calculated descriptive statistics and used a non-parametric trend test to compare the current survey responses with those from 2016. We also constructed a multivariate logistic regression model to assess attributes of respondents that predicted moderate/strong agreement with plans to incorporate hallucinogen-assisted therapy into their own practice,” the researchers wrote in their explanation of the survey’s methodology. 

With a response rate of about 13%, the researchers said that a “majority moderately/strongly believed that hallucinogens show promise in treating psychiatric conditions (80.9%) and substance use disorders (SUDs) (60.8%).”

“Large majorities also moderately/strongly supported research into hallucinogens’ therapeutic potential for psychiatric conditions (93.9%) and SUDs (88.6%), as well as federal funding of associated clinical trials (84.7% and 80.9%, respectively),” the researchers wrote. “Comparisons to 2016 showed significantly increased optimism regarding the therapeutic promise of hallucinogens and decreased concern about risks, with 50.4% of respondents reporting moderate/strong intentions to incorporate hallucinogen-assisted therapy into their practice.”

The survey’s findings track with what has been a remarkable shift in attitudes among researchers, policymakers and the public at large toward psychedelics, particularly as a form of mental health treatment.

In 2020, the University of California Berkeley launched a center for psychedelic science and public education to “conduct research using psychedelics to investigate cognition, perception and emotion and their biological bases in the human brain.”

The center launched with a little more than a million dollars in seed funding. In August, the center announced that it was launching a free online course called Psychedelics and the Mind financed through a grant from the Steve and Alexandra Cohen Foundation.

The shift in attitudes has created a groundswell of pressure on lawmakers in Washington to end the federal prohibition of psychedelics like psilocybin. 

In September, state lawmakers in Michigan passed a resolution urging Congress, the Department of Defense, and Department of Veterans Affairs to “prioritize research and investment in non-technology treatment options for servicemembers and veterans who have psychological trauma as a result of military service.”

“The need to address veteran mental health is of key importance in Michigan. In 2021, it was reported that there were 554,281 veterans living in Michigan, making Michigan rank eleventh out of fifty-three states and territories in veteran population,” the resolution said. “However, between 2016 and 2020, it was reported that there were 882 Michigan veterans who died by suicide.”

The resolution “[urges] the United States Congress, Department of Defense, and Department of Veterans Affairs to prioritize research and investment in non-technology treatment options for servicemembers and veterans who have psychological trauma as a result of military service.”

Earlier this year, the younger brother of President Joe Biden offered a glimmer of hope that reform could be coming from the White House.

In an interview, Frank Biden said that his brother is “very open minded” about psychedelic therapy.

“Put it that way. I don’t want to speak; I’m talking brother-to-brother. Brother-to-brother,” Frank Biden said. “The question is, is the world, is the U.S. ready for this? My opinion is that we are on the cusp of a consciousness that needs to be brought about to solve a lot of the problems in and around addiction, but as importantly, to make us aware of the fact that we’re all one people and we’ve got to come together.”

In the survey of psychiatrists published last month, the researchers acknowledged that federal reform could be on the horizon.

“Psilocybin, a classic hallucinogen, may eventually be approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for treatment-resistant depression. However, we are aware of only one published national survey of American psychiatrists regarding their opinions about hallucinogens and hallucinogen-assisted therapy, conducted by our group in 2016. Here, we report a repeat survey, using virtually identical methods, assessing whether American psychiatrists display greater optimism about the therapeutic use of hallucinogens in 2022–23,” they wrote.

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