Psychedelics Offer Long-Term Improvement in Sexual Functioning, Enjoyment

Findings on sexual pleasure are of particular importance to those seeking treatment for depression.

By
Sophie Saint Thomas

Plenty of readers already know that the ego-busting effects of a good trip can also positively impact your sex life, and now there’s more science backing up the use of psychedelics for sexual dysfunction. A recent study featured in Scientific Reports has shed light on the potential benefits of psychedelics, such as magic mushrooms and LSD, for enhancing sexual function, PsyPost reports. The research shows that participants found multifaceted improvements in their sexual well-being that persisted for several weeks after their experiences. This suggests that these substances not only can be fun during the trip (although note that not everyone likes to have sex while tripping) but may provide sustained benefits far beyond their immediate psychoactive effects.

Before we move on to how psychedelics enhance sex lives, let’s recall how they can improve depression. Because the two are related. As the National Institutes of Health report, psychedelics, such as psilocybin and MDMA, have demonstrated potential as effective treatments for mental health conditions such as treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s thought that they work by facilitating the formation of new neural connections in the brain in a pretty awesome process of brain healing itself known as plasticity.

This is notable because traditional antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac and Zoloft, can come with sexual dysfunction as a side effect. While SSRIs work for some folks, and it’s never really cool to hate on one person’s medicine, as the New York Times reports, the longer-term efficacy of such drugs is a little hazy, and for some people, they don’t seem to help much with depression at all. Couple that with the fact that sexual dysfunction caused by these meds can lead to a worsening of depression symptoms, as having your libido and intimate life messed with can be pretty depressing, and it’s clear why researchers are not only looking into psychedelics to treat depression but to help with sexual dysfunction.

A team from Imperial College London looked at how psychedelics can affect sexual satisfaction by gathering participants who were already planning on taking psychedelics, either in a private setting or as part of a formal psychedelic ceremony. This included classical psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, DMT, and San Pedro cactus. 

The participants filled out questionnaires one week prior to their psychedelic experience to create a baseline), and then again at four weeks and six months after the experience. The study included a total of 261 adults, primarily from the United States. 

Perhaps one of the coolest takeaways, joining the sacred and the profane, is that those in the study cited the spirituality of the experience as a major reason why sex became better. Spiritual experiences can heighten intimacy, make one feel more comfortable in their own body, more aware of the beauty of human experiences such as sex, and so forth. 

While the results contain cool and notable outcomes, keep in mind that the researchers note that there could be some bias in the participant selection. Those who took part in the study and made their own plans to enjoy psychedelics likely already have a favorable view of them, and such positive thinking could also improve favorable effects on sexuality. 

While that’s not a bad thing, to get a clearer viewpoint of just how psychedelics affect sex comparatively, the researchers also examined data from 59 people participating in a double-blind, randomized controlled trial. This trial assessed the effects of psilocybin therapy in comparison to escitalopram, a widely used selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) you’ve probably heard of under the brand name Lexapro.

In contrast to the control group treated with escitalopram, which saw their sexual satisfaction go down while rates of sexual dysfunction went up, which is, of course, less than ideal, the people who got psilocybin therapy showed significant enhancements. The psilocybin group reported marked improvements in “sexual interest, arousal, activity, and overall satisfaction” without anxiety around sexual disruptions that can come with SSRIs. 

As Tommaso Barba, a PhD student based at the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London and first author of the study said, per PsyPost: “We believe this is the first scientific study to explore the effects of psychedelics on sexual functioning. Our findings suggest potential implications for conditions that negatively affect sexual health, including clinical depression and anxiety. This is particularly significant given that sexual dysfunction, often induced by antidepressants, frequently results in people stopping these medications and subsequently relapsing.” 

So, basically, not only could psychedelics treat depression and make sex better, but opting for them over SSRIs could help folks continue to take their meds. Of course, the only (massive) issue still standing in the way is that psychedelics remain illegal on a federal level and can be tricky for people to access, but readers can hope that such science is leading us closer to a day when these medicines are available for all. 

Sophie Saint Thomas

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