Study: Personal Psychedelic Use Common Among Therapists

The practice is controversial, with some saying it is inappropriate for therapists to use psychedelic drugs.

Therapists who administer psychedelic treatments to patients apparently like to use psychedelics themselves.

That is the chief takeaway of a new study published in the journal Psychedelic Medicine, revealing that “Personal experience with psychedelics was notably common in this sample of psychedelic therapists.”

The findings, the authors of the study noted, are “the first to delineate the personal use of psychedelics among professionals and can inform a pressing debate for the field.”

That psychedelic therapists use psychedelics might seem like a “dog bites man” caliber headline, but as the authors noted, an “emerging controversy in psychedelic therapy regards the appropriateness or necessity of psychedelic therapists having personal experience using psychedelics themselves.”

“Although there are a number of potential advantages and disadvantages to personal use among psychedelic therapists, no studies to date have measured their use or other aspects of their training,” they wrote. 

For the study, the researchers said that they “broadly review[ed] the literature on experiential learning in psychotherapy and psychiatry as well as the history of personal use of psychedelics by professionals,” and then reported “on the results of a survey that was sent to all 145 therapists associated with Usona Institute’s Phase II clinical trial of psilocybin for major depressive disorder.”

They said that 32 of those individuals participated in the survey, representing a 22% response rate. 

In their conclusion, the authors said that “study was limited by a low response rate and a lack of diversity among participants,” as “the majority of psychedelic therapists identified as white, female, and having doctoral degrees.” 

The authors also noted that six individuals “did not fully complete the survey and were removed from all analyses,” and that “all six of these participants stopped the survey when prompted to answer questions regarding their personal substance use.”

“Future research is needed to address these limitations as well as to identify whether personal experience with psychedelics contributes to therapists’ competency or introduces bias to the field,” they wrote. 

“One interpretation of the low response rate is that only a small proportion of the practitioners working as psychedelic facilitators felt comfortable answering questions—anonymously and confidentially—about their personal experiences with psychedelic substances, but other explanations such as the lack of compensation for participating in the study may also be relevant,” the authors added.

Still, the findings are significant, particularly as psychedelic therapy continues to become more prevalent. 

“This sample of psychedelic therapists had considerable experience using classic psychedelic drugs and related hallucinogens themselves, with 28 of 32 (88%) endorsing use of a classic psychedelic and all but 1 participant trying at least one hallucinogen-related substance. This figure differs from the general population lifetime rate of psychedelic use, which tends to be around 10–15%; although several recent studies have indicated that usage seems to be increasing. Only one of four individuals without previous classic psychedelic experience had previous psychedelic training, making these individuals unique and relatively psychedelic-naive candidates to provide the treatment. Given their paucity of experience in the field, these individuals may represent interesting case studies in understanding the role of experiential learning with psychedelics,” the authors wrote.

They continued: “In terms of intentions, personal development and spiritual growth were the most common reasons reported for substance use, particularly with the classic psychedelics. However, most participants also reported intentions related to having fun and curiosity … Although the role of intentions has often been noted as being critical to the acute experience and subsequent outcomes among psychedelic users … there has been limited research prospectively testing the relationship between intentions and drug effects. Nonetheless, our results add to a growing body of literature suggesting a distinct set of intentions among psychedelic users.”

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