A study published in 2013 by researchers in the Department of Neuroscience in the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found over 30 million Americans have used a psychedelic at least once in their lifetime, or around 10 percent of the population. These are pretty incredible findings considering mere possession of these drugs is often a felony.
They used a 2010 population survey of people 12 and older looking for lifetime use, that is, at least once in a lifetime. Psychedelics weren’t just something of the 60’s; “lifetime rate of psychedelic use among people aged 50 to 64 years (the “baby boomer” generation) was similar to the rate among people aged 21 to 49 years.” It proves the desire to expand one’s consciousness and look in from outside the box isn’t some historic anomaly; in fact humans have been finding mind-altering substances in nature for thousands of years.
From the information given by the 57,873 individuals interviewed for the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, researchers found use was highest among people ages 30 to 34, with higher rates in men than women. The drug of choice has changed since the baby-boomers; young adults were more likely to have used psilocybin mushrooms and older individuals dropped more acid, mescaline and ate more peyote.
It looks like mescaline and peyote are the only drugs that have declined. We could call it the War on Drugs’ only pathetic victory, but that’s probably not even why. The peyote cactus is sadly close to extinction, and mescaline is difficult to synthesize. LSD is also difficult to make, but a little bit goes a long way. The higher dose mescaline requires means there’s much less profit in making it, so more clandestine chemists will turn to acid instead.
Hallucinogens are considered dangerous for the mind and body by America’s antiquated drug policies and institutions, but new studies (also performed outside of the US, no surprise) show psychedelics are far from harmful.
Another study by the same Norwegian authors titled “Psychedelics and mental health: a population study” concludes that psychedelics are not “an independent risk factor for mental health problems.” They also made some interesting findings regarding common misconceptions and fears about hallucinogens: flashbacks and hallucinogen persisting perceptual disorder, or HPPD.
They found “all of the purported symptoms of HPPD are also present in people who have never used psychedelics” and “occasional visual phenomena are common in the general population, especially among people with anxiety disorders.” They interviewed 500 regular participants in Native American peyote rituals and couldn’t find anyone with “flashback” symptoms or HPPD.
It’s no surprise; acid just makes you notice curiosities of the human experience. Neuroscientists have shown us that your brain only really notices what you’re focusing on, and fills in the blanks, so to say, about the rest of your visual field.
“Case reports of mental health problems following psychedelics are often comparable to case reports of mental health problems linked to intensive meditation, visiting holy sites, or viewing beautiful artwork and sublime natural scenes.” Doesn’t seem so bad to me.