If you were to do a Google search on the long-term effects of psychedelics, you may quickly see words like damaging, physical harm, disturbances, and psychosis. And while there are certainly long-term effects that we should be aware of, these words paint an incomplete and incorrect picture of psychedelics as most negative effects can be avoided or eliminated altogether with proper screening, preparation, and implementation. In fact, many of the long-term effects of psychedelics are positive and end up contributing to positive changes in one’s mental health and overall wellbeing.
What’s more, many of the sources behind these long-term concerns surrounding psychedelics are drug treatment facilities or drug abuse organizations. While there’s financial gain to be made by perpetuating the notion that psychedelics are dangerous and associated with severe and lasting consequences, the irony is that psychedelics may actually fulfill the same mission as these centers and organizations: decreased dependence on substances, positive habitual changes, and long-term healing.
There have been a range of studies demonstrating the efficacy of psychedelics in actually treating a range of addictions. Psychedelics like LSD, ibogaine, peyote, and ayahuasca have been suggested as a successful tool in helping someone recover from drug dependency.
That aside, let’s take a look at the long-term effects of psychedelic use (both good and bad) and some steps you can take to ensure that you experience the effects that are positive and sustained.
Long-Term Effects: The Good
In recent years, we have come to understand more of the enduring effects of psychedelic use. And for the vast majority of the population, these long-term effects are extremely positive.
One recent study took into consideration 34 different studies with psychedelics to find that participants consistently reported lasting and positive changes in personality and attitude, improvements in depression and anxiety symptoms, increases in spirituality, and, as we mentioned before, reductions in substance abuse.
They also noted that mystical experiences led to greater feelings of connectedness, which contributed to an increase in mindfulness practices like meditation. In fact, the mystical experiences brought on by profound alterations of consciousness have been shown to have significant and long-lasting effects on personality and wellbeing.
In one study with LSD, participants reported positive mood changes, an increase in altruistic behaviors, and a general increase in positive behavioral changes in the 12 months following the experience. Subsequently, participants also rated their overall wellbeing and life satisfaction much higher following the experience.
Similarly, psychedelic drugs have been understood to impact neural function and wiring. Through the promotion of neural plasticity (flexibility in the connections in our brain), psychedelics can address mental health problems and lead to habit reprogramming.
This can be seen with substances like ketamine leading to reductions in depression symptoms, or MDMA and LSD changing brain function causing improved mood and new positive habits and attitudes that last long after the drugs have left our systems.
Before we touch on the negative long-term effects of psychedelic use, it might be important for us to realize that many of the fears and misconceptions we have surrounding the dangers of psychedelics aren’t founded in science but rather in the social and political realm. The sensationalization of many of these claims has actually been challenged since the early days of psychedelic research in the 1960s.
While stigma and misinformation are fortunately falling away now, this statement, from a study of the long-term effects of psychedelics in 1968 does a good job of highlighting some of the barriers that psychedelic use and research have faced:
“Five hundred deaths from alcoholism would hardly be worth mentioning in the newspapers, but one death in association with these drug substances is worth headlines.”
Long-Term Effects: The Bad
So is this to say that there are absolutely no negative long-term effects of psychedelic use? No. Like with any drug, there are a few potential long-term consequences to be aware of.
Let’s start by addressing one of the first perceived negative long-term effects: mental health issues.
In one of the largest studies (21,967 respondents) ever published on the long-term effects of psychedelic use, researchers found that it was associated with no increased rate of mental health outcomes (rather, it was associated with a lower rate of mental health problems). A similar study, with 19,299 psychedelic users, found that there was no reported association between psychedelics and treatment rates for mental health issues, serious psychological stress, depression and anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts.
The one caveat here is that psychedelics can bring out underlying health conditions like Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder that have gone previously undiagnosed. Psychedelic use can be an intensely personal experience, giving access to deeply hidden parts of your psyche. That’s why it’s been used as a spiritual sacrament for thousands of years.
However, this discovery can often uncover unknown mental conditions and exacerbate their symptoms. If you are unsure whether you fall into this category, a mental health screening may help you feel more prepared. Please speak with your trusted mental health professional prior to embarking on a wellness journey with psychedelics.
Okay then, what about the other negative effects of psychedelics?
We should mention here that most of the adverse risks of psychedelic use are extremely short-lived. In fact, most negative effects are typically resolved within 24 hours, or, at the very least, within a few days.
And where negative long-term effects have been reported, they’ve been associated with multiple doses in the same session or the use of a psychedelic in combination with other substances (both of which can be avoided with proper use and harm reduction practices).
What about dependence? Can someone be addicted to psychedelics?
When it comes to physical or mental dependence on psychedelics, it’s only been reported with PCP and ketamine; however much of the research into dependence upon these substances has been with rats, and human studies are limited. Aside from that, psychedelics are considered to be physiologically safe and are also substances that do not lead to addiction or dependence.
So, are there any long-term consequences of psychedelic use?
One of the perceived long-term consequences of psychedelic use that has been portrayed in the media and also has some factual, scientific basis is flashbacks. Between 5% and 50% of those who use hallucinogens have reported experiencing at least one flashback.
The official name for this is Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), which may present itself as a visual disturbance that may persist for years, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes when it happens.
HPPD takes two forms, the first being HPPD I. HPPD I is considered the benign flashback and flashback type, and is generally short-term, benign, and reversible. While the visual images may end up contributing to unpleasant feelings, it’s generally thought to not lead to significant impairment and distress.
For some, the mild impairment is actually rather enjoyable. In fact, some people have reported appreciating the “free trip.”
HPPD II, on the other hand, persists for the long-term and is either slowly reversible or irreversible, depending on the person. For some people, recurrent trips become a long-lasting feature of their life.
HPPD II has been reported with a variety of psychedelics, including: psilocybin, muscimol (the psychoactive compound in Amanita muscaria mushrooms), ayahuasca, salvia, ibogaine, mescaline (found in San Pedro and Peyote cacti), ketamine, dextromethorphan, MDMA, MDA, and cannabis.
HPPD II may persist with extremely uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms that may impact normal functioning in all areas of life (work, relationships, etc.), sometimes requiring medical treatment. It typically co-occurs with traits of anxiety and depression, however, beyond that we have little understanding of how or why it manifests in certain individuals.
Current prevalence estimates suggest that only around 4 to 4.5% of psychedelic users experience either form of HPPD. While it’s been associated with individuals who have a history of psychological issues or substance misuse, its unpredictable nature means that, although extremely rare, it can happen to anyone—even after just one experience with psychedelics.
How to Ensure the Best Long-Term Effects of Psychedelics
While the negative effects of psychedelic use are generally either short-term or extremely rare, there are some harm reduction steps that we can take to minimize exposure to these negative effects and help support a long and beneficial relationship with psychedelics.
- It’s helpful to have an intention and a reason for long-term psychedelic use. While benefits have certainly been reported with spontaneous, recreational psychedelic use, simply doing it for fun or when the situation arises (without any preparation or consideration of safety) can lead to some of the more negative long-term effects.
- Take a holistic approach and consider your physical, mental, and overall health needs before incorporating psychedelics into a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. This means being open and honest with your medical health professional, especially if you have preexisting conditions that may present unique risks when in combination with psychedelics.
- Test the substance before consuming it to be sure that it’s only the substance you intend to take and hasn’t been contaminated with any other substances or dangerous chemicals.
- Use psychedelics in moderation. Psychedelics can—and commonly are—a beneficial part of a balanced lifestyle. Too much of a good thing may end up preventing some of the long-term benefits of psychedelics. If you think you’re getting carried away with your psychedelic use, speak to a coach or mentor to ensure that you’re using them responsibly and respectfully.
- Don’t be too quick to judge a bad trip. While it might be easy to write off a bad trip as something awful and to be avoided, we find that many times, it’s these “bad” experiences that actually end up being the most beneficial in the long run—especially if you’re equipped with the appropriate framework to navigate the unpleasant or uncomfortable aspects of an experience.
- Actively seek out new information regarding psychedelics. Never before has psychedelic research been so available and easy to digest! Read books, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, and skim through journal articles to discover what’s happening in this fascinating and quickly evolving field.
- Take the time to appropriately prepare a set and setting conducive to a positive experience and fulfilling your intention. You should be in the right mindset for the experience (i.e. no conflicting mental stresses from work, relationships, for example or potentially conflicting mental illnesses) and should be in a safe and comfortable environment with everything you would need during the experience (i.e. food, water, access to toilet, trip sitter or sober friend).
- You should feel confident that you’re taking an appropriate dose. While this will take some experimentation on your part to find what works best for you, there are several dosage guides available to help you get started.
- Don’t forget about integration. The integration process will take place before and after the experience itself, and while it’s sometimes overlooked it is just as important as the actual trip! Psychedelics allow us to examine our psyches—including the thoughts and emotions that tend to go unnoticed. This may bring up a lot of questions, concerns, and epiphanies. If you bottle up or ignore these issues and insights, they’ll likely be lost and the positive effects of your use will be temporary. Without processing these novel insights or newly-developed questions, we’re not accessing all of the long-term benefits of psychedelics.
- Take advantage of all of the resources available to you. We’re very fortunate to be living in a time where we understand psychedelics more than ever before and there’s less stigma attached to their use. As such, there’s been an explosion of committed and knowledgeable professionals ready to help someone on their psychedelic journey. You now have the option to be supported by a trip sitter before, during, and after your psychedelic experience. To have the best chances of accessing long-lasting personal growth and wellness benefits of psychedelics, talk to one of our psychedelic facilitators today.
Profound Psychedelic Experiences for Long-Lasting Effects
If you’ve felt bogged down by the decades of warnings regarding the dangerous effects of psychedelics, we hope you can now take relief in the fact that these substances are not only safe, but they’re also one of the best ways to support positive and sustained health and wellbeing outcomes. If you still have unanswered questions, we encourage you to reach out and speak with us.
Now, we just have to wait for federal regulation to catch up with what we know about psychedelics, that “the relatively low risk with usage does not appear to align with stringent drug laws that impose heavy penalties for their use.”
Clinical psychologists, underground practitioners, mental health specialists, and novice psychonauts are all coming together in the modern psychedelic revolution. We all have a role to play in ensuring that psychedelics are as respected and revered as they should be.