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Absence of Social Support, Stressful Environments Linked to Adverse Outcomes for Psychedelics Users

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Scientists from the Imperial College London’s Center for Psychedelic Research have published a study indicating that psychedelics are linked to adverse outcomes when users  are in stressful environments and have limited social support. Published in the “Scientific Reports” journal, the study delved into the potential negative psychological effects associated with psychedelic drug use.

The study found that in the absence of social support, psychedelic users are at risk of experiencing psychological issues such as panic and persistent anxiety, especially if they are in particularly stressful environments.

With the recent resurgence in psychedelic research contributing to significant hype around the mental-health benefits of hallucinogens such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms), MDMA and LSD, researchers thought to counter by focusing wholly on the negative aspects of psychedelic consumption. Several studies have found that psychedelics can be quite effective at alleviating the symptoms of typically hard-to-treat mental disorders, especially when it is paired with traditional talk therapy. While the psychedelic itself is critical to the treatment, the therapy part of psychedelic-assisted therapy is essential to creating the best treatment outcomes.

But while all of the studies associating psychedelics with mental-health benefits take place in tightly controlled environments, most psychedelic use happens outside of research settings. Consequently, researchers worried that the growing body of psychedelic research may not be fully representative of how psychedelics can affect individuals outside of controlled research or medical environments.

Study author Rehecka Bremle says she and her team were interested in finding the potential risk factors that contribute to negative psychological responses during or after psychedelic consumption. The research team ran a two-phase study that first involved an online survey composed of the Challenging Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) to measure negative experience intensity as well as other questionnaires.  A second smaller group of 15 from the pool of 84 participants was then chosen for in-depth interviews by experts in the mental-health field.

Participants reported going through frightening or negative experiences (bad trips) while under the influence of classic psychedelics such as LSD. Anxiety and panic were the most reported symptoms. Researchers also found that some participants experienced derealization and flashbacks of their negative experiences.

The research team notes that factors such as drug purity and dosage, frequency of use, polysubstance use and drug-quality concerns may also contribute to negative outcomes. Furthermore, they found that unsafe or stressful environments as well as limited social support during and after the psychedelic experience contributed to negative outcomes.

A lot is still being discovered about how to leverage the benefits of psychedelics, and the studies that are being conducted by startups such as Seelos Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: SEEL) could reveal additional nuances pertinent to tapping the medicinal attributes of these hallucinogens.

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