The allure of psychedelics transcends generational boundaries, captivating people across diverse demographics and life stages.
While this isn’t about gatekeeping psychedelics and dictating a standardized right and wrong way of using substances like LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and MDMA, there are certain aspects of the journey that are worth discussing.
Younger generations are seemingly more aware and interested in topics related to psychology and mental health these days, which means that young people are now interested in psychedelics not just recreationally but therapeutically.
This discourse goes beyond biological age, encompassing mental and emotional preparedness and personal responsibilities, and is worthy of consideration given that hallucinogens are highly impactful and life-changing.
An individual’s age, coupled with their mental and emotional landscape—as well as their ability to cultivate a suitable set and setting—can markedly shape their perception and integration of the psychedelic experience.
In this discussion, we will not only examine age-related factors but also delve into various elements that influence the opportune moment to engage with psychedelics.
- Psychedelic therapy is emerging as a viable treatment for numerous mental health conditions, but research on the therapeutic benefits for younger individuals and those in developmental stages is still limited.
- Integrating psychedelic therapies into existing mental health frameworks expands treatment options, particularly for those with treatment-resistant conditions.
- While age and developmental stage can influence psychedelic experiences, waiting until the mid-20s or beyond, when the brain is more developed, may offer greater benefits.
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The Therapeutic Potential of Psychedelic Therapy: Addressing Mental Health Conditions
Psychedelic therapy has shown promise in the treatment of various mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), and treatment-resistant depression (TRD).
This section explores the therapeutic effects of psychedelic-assisted therapy, its application in clinical research settings, and its potential to improve mental health services for young people.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Psychedelic-assisted therapy has emerged as a potential treatment for PTSD, a debilitating condition characterized by intrusive memories, avoidance, and heightened emotional arousal.
Research suggests that psilocybin-assisted therapy, which utilizes the psychedelic compound found in “magic mushrooms,” can facilitate profound healing experiences and alleviate PTSD symptoms, providing new hope for individuals who have not responded to conventional therapies.
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) & Treatment-Resistant Depression (TRD)
Depression affects millions worldwide, with a significant subset of patients experiencing treatment-resistant depression.
Psychedelic therapy, particularly with compounds like psilocybin and MDMA, has demonstrated promising results in clinical trials.
Research suggests that these substances, when combined with therapeutic support, can induce transformative experiences and lead to significant reductions in depressive symptoms.
Such findings offer new avenues for those with treatment-resistant depression to find relief and improve their quality of life.
Common Mental Health Conditions
Beyond PTSD and depression, psychedelics have shown potential therapeutic effects in addressing other common mental health conditions.
“Psilocybin has been implemented as a potential therapy for hard-to-treat disorders such as addiction, depression, and end-of-life anxiety.” (Ziff et al., 2022).
Advancements in Clinical Trials and Research
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of human hallucinogen research, with clinical trials examining the safety and efficacy of psychedelic-assisted therapies (Tupper et al., 2015).
These trials adhere to rigorous scientific standards and ethical considerations, ensuring participant safety and informed consent.
As more research is conducted, the evidence base supporting the therapeutic use of psychedelics continues to grow.
Implications for Mental Health Services
The potential of psychedelic therapy has significant implications for mental health services, especially for young people struggling, but more research is needed.
By integrating these therapies into existing treatment frameworks, mental health services can expand their options for individuals who have not found relief through traditional approaches.
This integration requires careful consideration of regulatory frameworks, practitioner training, and ensuring accessibility and affordability of these treatments.
What Is a Good Age to Start Using Psychedelic Medicine?
The onset of hallucinogen use typically occurs between ages 15 to 19 years, with 19 being the most likely age for people to first experiment with psychedelics, particularly with white respondents with high income households (Chilcoat & Schutz, 1996).
This suggests that socio-economic factors play a role in the age of psychedelic use as well as race. Regardless of any background, Americans seem to view 18 years old as the age of coming into adulthood.
The life-changes that take place around this age—whether it’s moving away from home, starting a new job, or going to college—marks a period of independence where an individual generally gains a larger degree of autonomy and freedom.
Regardless of the social freedoms that come around this age, one’s mind and body still have a lot of development and changing which will take place in the coming years, and without a doubt, psychedelics affect the body in interesting ways.
While 19 is considered a good age to begin using psychedelics, it’s thought by many that the early to mid-20’s is much better.
And in many cases, people are in their thirties before they have a strong enough sense of values, identity, and self-awareness to be able to understand and integrate a psychedelic experience.
Ultimately, the age at which one is ready to use psychedelics will be driven by their past experiences, intended outcome, and feelings of preparedness.
In essence, an appropriate age is when you feel ready—when you have a thoughtful intention, the proper knowledge, and preparation to interact with these substances.
Unfortunately, many teenagers and young adults initially seek out drugs (specifically alcohol) as a form of entertainment, numbing, or escapism.
This mentality also affects psychedelic use as many try them for the first time for recreation or as a ‘party drug’.
Ironically, using psychedelics for the first time can have the complete opposite effect and can be done for opposing reasons—to stimulate deep personal discovery and help someone connect with themselves.
Risks For Younger Users of Psychedelic Substances
“Sadly, the first psychedelic experience is much more likely to happen at a noisy party somewhere than in a sacred setting filled with reminders of spirit. And that’s a big missed opportunity, for us as a society.” — Ram Dass, 2004
According to this 2013 report by Deepak Prabhakar, about 5% of school-age children (8th through 12th grade) have used psychedelics.
In Western society, teen psychedelic use is an act of rebellion or stems from the need to be socially accepted, and most often is done in an unsupervised and unsanctioned setting.
Interestingly, in non-western societies, psychedelic use is associated with coming-of-age rituals, religious ceremonies, and carrying on the lineage of past generations.
This causes the user to heal mental trauma, gain a deeper understanding of the self, and understand the importance of their legacy.
With the lack of these types of rites of passage in America, it’s no wonder psychedelics are relegated as ‘party drugs’ to teens and young adults.
With the illegality and stigma that surrounds psychedelic use, a teen may have healing in mind (i.e. spiritual growth from psychedelics) but presumably have to keep their experiences a secret.
This prevents them from constructively working with adults or therapists that can help them integrate the experience and use psychedelics responsibly.
The desire to alter consciousness appears to be universal and spans around the globe, yet the current landscape in the United States takes an “all drugs are harmful and immoral” approach, which deters older adults and parents from educating their children and family members.
In contrast, in other cultures, psychedelics are used in initiation rituals as an adolescent becomes a young adult. These rites of passage typically involve something like a spoonful of ayahuasca or a small amount of peyote.
This allows the children to comprehend how sacred and powerful the medicines are, and by respecting these substances, minimizes the chance of them developing an unhealthy relationship with drugs altogether.
In fact, when a similar process is followed in the US (either with or without drugs), the focus on awareness, education, and respect contributes to young people who develop a healthier relationship with psychedelics.
Recently, several social scientists, educators, and mental health professionals have begun to propose that meaningful rites-of-passage are needed in our society.
There are several anecdotal accounts of parents providing resources, the drugs themselves, or simply being available to answer questions and share stories of their personal psychedelic experiences with their children (Stuart, 2004).
These conversations can go a long way in introducing adolescents to psychedelics and providing them with the tools, insight, and agency to form responsible relationships with them.
The knowledge and resources that come with responsible psychedelic use can come from a parent or respected older adult, but for many, they come from other individuals in the psychedelic community.
Learning from the firsthand experiences of others is one of the best ways to be able to form a healthy relationship with psychedelics, which is why we created a network of psychedelic experts and facilitators available for consulting.
From in-person ceremonial psychedelic experiences to preparatory work to integration services after ceremony, our network emphasizes harm reduction and multifaceted support. If you are ready, take the next step in your healing by booking a discovery call today.
Benefits of Waiting To Take Psychedelics Later in Life
While it stands to reason that, with the appropriate support and knowledge, a teen can have a positive experience with psychedelics, waiting a bit longer has been associated with more benefits.
The prefrontal cortex (the rational part of the brain) isn’t fully developed until around age 25 (Campellone & Turley, 2023), and many psychedelic experiences involve novel thoughts and emotions that can literally rewire the brain.
Therefore, someone without a fully developed brain may not have the mental faculties to comprehend everything that comes up.
Relatedly, while this certainly isn’t always the case and is dependent on an array of other factors, the chances of developing any form of new-onset addiction is much higher in adolescence and early adulthood (ages 15 to 25) (Fiouzi, 2023).
Additionally, long term risks have been reported with adolescent substance use. Cognitive deficits have been reported with both cannabis (Shrivastava et al., 2011) and MDMA (Jacobsen, 2023)—both risks of which aren’t present with adults.
Older individuals tend to have a better appreciation of the healing benefits of psychedelics, as well as understanding the importance of preparation and integration.
In addition, they’re more likely to have the resources to use psychedelics properly (a setting conducive to the experience, the finances to afford it, etc.).
And perhaps most importantly is that older individuals have a stronger support network of family and long-term friends, some of whom might even be experimenting with psychedelics themselves.
But How Old is Too Old to Take Hallucinogens?
If you’re reading this article as a young person with hesitations about psychedelic use but are also worried about “missing out,” it’s important to know that this step in life should only be taken when you feel truly prepared and ready.
On the flip side, if you’re an older individual who feels like you’ve missed the train or that your mind and body are too set in their ways, don’t count yourself out just yet.
It’s likely that the psychedelic experience will be better as you get older—hopefully with more substances becoming legal in the meantime—so there is really no pressure to take this step at a younger age.
While it’s generally better to wait until we’re well into adulthood to try psychedelics—barring any serious health concerns—there seems to be a general consensus that you’re never too old for psychedelics.
You may be surprised to find that older Americans are the fastest-growing age group of marijuana users (Azofeifa et al., 2014). In fact, there has recently been a 455% increase among those 55 to 64 years old!
From a physiological standpoint, however, there are a few additional concerns older adults need to be aware of. Risks like inadequate blood flow to the heart, hypotension, and increased heart rate are all possible concerns—especially for those with heart conditions (Ahmed et al., 2014).
Similar risks are also present with MDMA, another drug that’s becoming more popular for older adults. Even then, health officials claim that it’s much safer than most people perceive (Canadian Press, 2012).
From a life improvement standpoint, more older adults are starting to use psychedelics to help them come to terms with or prepare for the end of their lives.
Older Americans are plagued by chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and insomnia—and consume more pharmaceutical drugs than any other group of people on this planet.
Particularly present with Baby Boomers and their elders, more and more people are looking into alternatives, like psychedelics, for the ways they can radically improve quality of life, especially towards the end.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is there an optimal age to start using psychedelic medicine for mental health purposes?
While there is no rigid age criterion, starting psychedelic use in one’s mid-20s or later is often associated with more mature self-awareness, which can enhance the integration of psychedelic experiences.
Understanding one’s values, identity, and self-awareness is essential before embarking on a psychedelic journey.
Q: Are there risks associated with younger users of psychedelics?
Younger users face specific risks such as inadequate preparation, potential for higher doses due to lack of experience, and unsupervised consumption, which can lead to adverse effects.
The developing brain and inadequate knowledge about substance testing and safety can also contribute to potential harm.
Q: How does psychedelic therapy contribute to mental health services and existing treatment frameworks?
Integrating psychedelic therapy into mental health services expands treatment options, especially for those with treatment-resistant depression.
It necessitates careful consideration of regulatory frameworks, practitioner training, accessibility, and affordability to provide a more holistic approach to mental health care.
Q: What precautions should older individuals take when considering psychedelic therapy?
Older individuals should be mindful of potential physiological risks, particularly those related to heart conditions, before engaging in psychedelic therapy.
It’s important to ensure adequate blood flow to the heart and consider potential effects on heart rate. Consulting a healthcare professional before engaging in psychedelic experiences is advised for older adults.