It’s no secret that, especially recently, people of all ages are becoming interested in psychedelics. From Silicon Valley using psychedelics to improve work performance to stories of psilocybin’s role in helping terminal patients face their impending death, people from all walks of life are wondering how they too can harness the power of psychedelics.
And while it is clear that psychedelics can have a positive benefit at various stages of life, more people have been wondering, what is the proper age to begin using psychedelics? In this article we’ll explore why you may never be too old, but may be too young to start using psychedelics.
What is a Good Age to Start Psychedelic Exploration?
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. This suggests that socio-economic factors play a role in the age of psychedelic use as well as race. Regardless of any background, Americans 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 has the freedom (and responsibility) to make their own choices and decide how they participate and engage with the world. That said, this is also thought to be a pivotal time to try psychedelics, and that psychedelic use any earlier than this age can compromise health.
Regardless of the social freedoms that come around this age, one’s mind and body still has a lot of development to do. You may technically be an “adult” but think about it, did you know who you truly were when you were 18 years old?
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 Psychedelics
“But 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
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. Without guidance from an experienced adult, several risks also exist, such as taking too large of a dose or not knowing how to test substances for safety.
Preparation for young people who might encounter drugs is key—and is something that is prioritized in other cultures. The desire to alter consciousness appears to be universal and spans around the globe, yet the current landscape in the United States (D.A.R.E. programs, the War on Drugs, etc.) takes an “all drugs are harmful and immoral” approach, which deters older adults/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. 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.
We are trip sitters who facilitate in-person ceremonial psychedelic experiences with an emphasis on harm reduction in decriminalized areas. If you are ready, take the next step in your healing by booking a discovery call today.
Benefits of Waiting Until 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.
Many psychedelic experiences involve novel thoughts and emotions that can literally rewire the brain. Simply put, 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). Additionally, long term risks have been reported with adolescent psychedelic use. Cognitive deficits have been reported with both cannabis and MDMA—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 important 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?
If you’re reading this article as a young person with hesitations about psychedelic use but also worried about “missing out,” don’t worry. Similarly, 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. While it’s generally better to wait until we’re well into adulthood to try psychedelics, barring any serious health concerns, there’s 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. 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.
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.
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.
Studies have shown that, when used in older adulthood, psychedelics can enhance creativity, increase empathy and openness, and induce personally meaningful experiences. Anecdotal evidence supports this, too.
From the women in their mid-50’s who have taken to the trend of wrapping MDMA in brie cheese to the men in their 60’s who report that, “low dose trips are the party drug use of choice for us oldies,” we can say that not only are psychedelics generally safe for older people—but are also becoming increasingly appealing for them.
Psychedelics can be beneficial at nearly any age, but, generally speaking, it’s better to wait until at least our mid-20’s. Not only is this when the brain fully develops, but it’s also more likely that people interested in psychedelics at this age are better prepared for the experience, as well as the preparation and integration that takes place before and after.
For those of you worried about “missing out,” we can take solace in the fact that older adults are increasingly finding benefits from psychedelic use and, as the legality around these substances change, future psychedelic use will likely be safer and more supported.
Many barriers to a safe and supportive first encounter with psychedelics is the result of the illegality of psychedelics rather than an inherent flaw in the substances themselves. With hope, legalization in the near future combined with a rising trend of social acceptance will allow individuals seeking their first experience to do so in a safe and supported way, regardless of age.
If you are looking to be professionally supported on your healing journey with psychedelics, we encourage you to book a discovery call with one of our facilitators today. As trip sitters, we are alongside you for the entire journey, ensuring that you are never alone—from preparation all the way through post-experience integration.