Psychedelics and Suicidality

The Impact of Psychedelics on Suicidality Rates

  • One person dies every 40 seconds due to suicide
  • New researcher suggests that psychedelics may reduce suicidal thoughts
  • A Canadian trial showed that 60 percent of  patients had fewer suicidal thoughts due to the use of classic psychedelics

The rate of suicide has been rising, making the 10th leading cause of death in the United States with the deaths of over 48,000 people in 2018. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 800,000 people die due to suicide every year globally, or one person every 40 seconds. Over the past few decades psychedelic drugs have shown potential for treating a number of mental health conditions, such as anxiety, mood changes, addiction, and depression. New research suggests that psychedelics may help reduce suicidal thoughts and psychological distress.

Psychedelics and Suicidality

Peter Hendricks, along with researchers from John Hopkins University and the University of Alabama, Birmingham, conducted a study into the effects of classical psychedelic drugs on suicidality. For this study, researchers used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to evaluate the connection between using psychedelic drugs and psychological distress and suicidality.

Of 191,382 respondents, 27,235 reported lifetime use of one or more of classic psychedelics, including LSD, psilocybin or peyote. 12,657 respondents reported psychological distress within the past month, 10,445 reported suicidal thinking within the past year, 3,157 reported suicidal planning within the past year and 1,716 reported suicidal attempts within the past year. The use was concentrated among 26-64-year-olds and was more common among men; non-Hispanic whites and Native Americans/Alaska Natives. Among users of these psychedelic drugs, only 240 said they never tried any other illicit drug.

The results of the study showed that classic psychedelic use was associated with reduced psychological distress, suicidal thinking and planning, and suicide attempts. Illicit use of other drugs showed an increased risk of suicidality.

“These findings indicate that classic psychedelics may hold promise in the prevention of suicide, supporting the view that classic psychedelics’ most highly restricted legal status should be reconsidered to facilitate scientific study, and suggesting that more extensive clinical research with classic psychedelics is warranted,” stated the researchers.

To investigate whether psychedelic drugs can reduce suicides, Elena Argento of the British Columbia Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS analyzed a data set relating to 766 female sex workers from the period between 2010 and 2014 in Vancouver. As a part of the study, the women completed a questionnaire, asking whether they had used drugs before, and if they had experienced suicidal thoughts in the past six months.

Elena Argento speaks on psychedelics and suicidality at Psychedelic Science 2017

An Evaluation of Sex Workers Health Access (AESHA), a gender and sexual health initiative in British Columbia, recruited women (including cisgender and transgender women), 14 years of age or older, who had exchanged sex for money in the past month through community outreach on the street, or indoor or online sex work venues. Out of 766 women, those who reported having thoughts about attempted suicide were excluded, leaving 290 women in the analysis. This research showed that women who had used psychedelic drugs at some point in their life were 60 percent less likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who hadn’t. However, women who had taken crack or cocaine, and/or experienced abuse during childhood, had higher suicidality risks.

“Alongside emerging evidence on the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapy to treat some mental illness and addiction issues, our findings demonstrate that naturalistic psychedelic drug use is independently associated with reduced suicidality, while other illicit drug use and childhood trauma predispose women to suicidality,” stated Argento.

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris from Imperial College London conducted an open-label clinical trial in which individuals with treatment-resistant depression received two doses of psilocybin with psychological support. Results showed significant decreases in self-reported suicidality one and two weeks after the session.

The study conducted by researchers from Imperial College London and Federal University in Brazil was set to investigate whether ayahuasca, a psychedelic brew, can help reduce suicide risk.

This double-blind placebo study recruited 29 patients with treatment-resistant depression and a history of psychotic disorders. Patients were randomly assigned to undergo one treatment session, where they were given either ayahuasca or placebo. A trained psychiatrist assessed suicidality before the treatment session, one day, two days, and seven days later. The results showed that ayahuasca may show the potential to alter suicidal thoughts and feelings.

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