Study: 9 in 10 Americans Say Psilocybin Use for Therapy, Well-Being Is ‘Morally Positive’

Whether it be for specific therapeutic treatments or a general enhancement in well-being, a new study finds that most Americans approve of psilocybin use in controlled settings.

As the modern-day psychedelic renaissance continues to press on, with myriad research and individual cases showing the merit behind innovative treatments like psilocybin-assisted therapies, it’s hard to deny the potential of this emerging solution. 

But as psychedelic reform continues to ripple throughout the nation, what exactly do Americans think of this new therapeutic option?

According to a new study published in the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience, it appears that most Americans are on board. The research examined the “moral status” of psilocybin, with nearly 9 in 10 Americans ultimately reporting that they approve of psilocybin’s use in a controlled, licensed setting to treat specific conditions or promote general well-being. 

Measuring Changing Perspectives

Psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in “magic mushrooms,” is still a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. The categorization deems that these substances have no currently accepted medical use and high potential for abuse.

Study authors note that psilocybin is often thought to be physiologically safer than many of the regularly prescribed drugs on the market, non-habit forming and effective to treat a number of psychiatric conditions in combination with psychotherapy. The authors also note increasing literature finding that psilocybin can have a variety of neuropsychological effects, like increasing prosocial attitudes, mindfulness and overall improved psychosocial functioning.

With the FDA’s recent move granting psilocybin with a “breakthrough therapy status” to use in major depressive disorder and treatment-resistant depression, alongside states increasingly moving to introduce psychedelic reform measures, researchers took a closer look at the perceived “morality” surrounding the medicinal use of psilocybin.

The study included perspectives from 795 participants aged 18 to 92 who were demographically representative of American citizens. Researchers provided participants basic information around psilocybin and background surrounding the recent Oregon law that legalized psilocybin for personal use in supervised settings. They were also asked to imagine a similar law being passed at the federal level.

Researchers then assigned participants one of two vignettes about an individual taking psilocybin with the supervision of a trained professional — one scenario using psilocybin to combat treatment-resistant depression (treatment) and another to improve overall well being (enhancement). 

Participants were also provided with accurate information stating that psilocybin has been shown to be “medically safe and non-addictive if administered in an appropriately controlled setting, both for those with certain mental health disorders and for healthy individuals.”

Finally, participants were asked to “morally evaluate” the supervised use of the compound.

Psilocybin for Therapy, Well-Being Has ‘Strong’ Support 

Overall, participants showed “strong bipartisan support” for both treatment (89%) or enhancement (85%). 

Researchers found that approval was slightly reduced among older and conservative participants, though support for treatment was “very high” in both political affiliations: 91% of liberals and 86% of conservatives showed favorable attitudes surrounding psilocybin use for treatment.

The use of psilocybin for enhancement had slightly less support: 89% of liberals and 78% of conservatives approved of its use for overall well-being.

“Across conditions, favorable attitudes toward controlled psilocybin use were linked to the moral foundation of care, suggesting that a concern for both patients’ and non-patients’ well-being underlies the tendency to approve of controlled psilocybin use,” according to the authors.

The study notes that participants were not asked about the unsupervised use of psilocybin, “underground” practitioners or other illegal uses — rather, the study was inspired by Oregon’s recent law explicitly focusing on legal and supervised use. In that regard, researchers say that results suggest the U.S. public is generally supportive of psilocybin use for both treatment and wellbeing.

“Given such bipartisan positive attitudes, future legislative changes allowing psychedelic use in supervised settings for both purposes, even at the federal level, seem unlikely to trigger major public backlash, assuming similar background information about (known) benefits or risks, which may change over time,” the study says.

While researchers caution against the assertion that psilocybin is a “silver bullet for treating mental illness,” especially as we continue to investigate the compound, they recognize that the study findings “suggest that the safe and supervised use of psychedelics under conditions of legalization has the potential to find wide public acceptance.”

They continue, “If the field can overcome scientific inaccuracies, pursue rigorous research, and build trust—then psychedelics such as psilocybin may one day be seen as a mainstream means to treat mental illness and possibly also to promote overall well-being.”

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