Krystle Cole, PhD candidate July 5, 2014 Click Here for the PDF Version
The LSD, Psilocybin, and DMT User Survey examined the estimated frequency of bad trips and spiritual insights associated with the use of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, and dimethyltryptamine (DMT) among a group of recreational users (N=3403). The data was collected through anonymous online self-reports during the month of April 2014. Respondents were recruited via posts on social media websites.
The survey contained filter questions asking respondents to report the number of times they consumed each drug. Those respondents who did not use a particular drug on at least one or more occasions throughout their lives skipped the questions regarding frequency of bad trips and spiritual insights for that drug. Since all respondents did not have a history of using all drugs, the number of participants who shared their experiences for each drug varied – LSD (n=2557), psilocybin (n=2601), smoked or vaporized DMT (n=1222), oral DMT with an MAOI (n=391).
The most common age of the respondents was 18 to 24 years (n=1989). Nonetheless, data was collected from a number of other age groups including respondents whose age was 25 to 34 years (n=834), 35 to 44 years (n=322), 45 to 54 years (n=130), 55 to 64 years (n=99), and 65 years and older (n=29). Volunteers from 114 countries completed the survey with the majority residing in the United States, Australia, Canada, or the United Kingdom. The gender of the sample was 19% female and 81% male.
Table 1. Estimated Rate of Bad Trips on LSD, Psilocybin, Smoked or Vaporized DMT, and Oral DMT (in Combination with an MAOI)
Table 2. Estimated Rate of Personally Meaningful Mystical and/or Spiritual Insights brought about by LSD, Psilocybin, Smoked or Vaporized DMT, and Oral DMT (in Combination with an MAOI)
Smoked or Vaporized DMT
Oral DMT in Combination with an MAOI
Understanding more about the consequences of hallucinogen use is a pertinent social issue. In the Unites States alone, it is estimated that approximately 32 million people have used hallucinogens at least once in their lives (Krebs & Johansen, 2013). Of course, psychedelics can bring about both positive and negative effects. Thus, this survey aimed to examine both sides of the spectrum.
Strassman (1984) explained that bad trips are comprised of a variety of symptoms including frightening visual or auditory hallucinations, overwhelming anxiety, panic reactions, aggression, violent behaviors, depressed mood with suicidal ideations, confusion, and paranoid delusions. Hemsley and Ward (1985) also found the frequency of bad trips to be associated with the later development of Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD). HPPD is the “transient recurrence of disturbances in perception that are reminiscent of those experienced during one or more earlier hallucinogen intoxications” (APA, 2000, p. 232-233).
Bad trips are a very real risk for a portion of individuals. In fact, some respondents within the sample reported experiencing bad trips during all of their LSD (1.2%), psilocybin (1.4%), smoked or vaporized DMT (2.2%), and oral DMT (5.4%) experiences. More respondents reported experiencing bad trips during at least half of their LSD (4.7%), psilocybin (8.2%), smoked or vaporized DMT (6.2%), and oral DMT (11.2%) experiences. Still, most respondents in the sample never experienced bad trips on LSD (53.4%), psilocybin (54.2%), smoked or vaporized DMT (72.8%), or oral DMT (68.5%)
With regard to one of the positive aspects of the psychedelic experience, most respondents in the sample reported meaningful mystical and/or spiritual insights during at least half of their LSD (74.3%), psilocybin (75.1%), smoked or vaporized DMT (74.6%), and oral DMT (79%) experiences. As well, a large portion of the sample reported meaningful mystical and/or spiritual insights during all of their LSD (35.5%), psilocybin (37.8%), smoked or vaporized DMT (52.9%), and oral DMT (61.4%) experiences. Regardless, some respondents never experienced meaningful mystical and/or spiritual insights from using LSD (7.6%), psilocybin (8.9%), smoked or vaporized DMT (12.4%), or oral DMT (13%).
Considering the extensive historical and present-day use of psychedelics among religions throughout the world, it is not surprising that LSD, psilocybin, and DMT brought about personally meaningful mystical and/or spiritual insights for most of the respondents. Initiates in ancient Greece consumed hallucinogenic kykeon at Eleusis while worshiping the goddess Demeter, and the ritual ingestion of the visionary substance soma was described in the Hindu Rig Veda (Ruck, Hofmann, & Wasson, 1978; Wasson, Kramrisch, Ruck, & Ott, 1992; Wasson, 1972). Examples of the more recent spiritual use of psychedelics are also quite prevalent. Just to name a few, these include the peyote ceremonies of the Native American Church, the ayahuasca ceremonies of the Santo Daime, União do Vegetal, and Barquinha, the sacramental use of DPT by the Temple of the True Inner Light, and the use of LSD by the League for Spiritual Discovery (Barbosa, Giglio, & Dalgalarrondo, 2005; Calabrese, 1997; Callaway, Brito, & Neves, 2005; Garrity, 2000; Lander, 2012; Pauli, 1997; Shanon, 2002).
That having been said, it is also important for recreational users to be mindful of the potential health consequences involved with the use of LSD, psilocybin, and DMT. Although these substances often bring about meaningful mystical and/or spiritual insights, they can also cause bad trips and possibly even HPPD.
Limitations and Recommendations for Future Research
A variety of factors are involved in the emergence of bad trips as well as mystical and/or spiritual insights during the psychedelic experience. Set, setting, and substance quality are thought to be interrelated with these outcomes (Cole, 2011). Still, research has been inconclusive with regard to pinpointing the precise etiology of bad trips (Ungerleider, Fisher, Fuller, & Caldwell, 1968). This survey focused on exploring the prevalence of bad trips and mystical/spiritual insights in general without taking set, setting, or any other aspects of psychedelic trips into consideration. Future research is needed to further examine the factors involved in the prevalence of these types of psychedelic experiences.
The findings are also based upon self-report data, which is another limitation. Self-report data can affect the validity of a study, as instances of data fraud and bias due to self-selection may be increased (Strickland, 2003). Nonetheless, when asking sensitive questions pertaining to drug use, self-administered surveys can also provide the most accurate and truthful responses (Groves et al., 2009).
Additionally, there is no way to be sure that the respondents actually used LSD, psilocybin, or DMT. With the large number of new psychoactive substances in circulation, it is likely that a portion of the respondents’ experiences may be attributed to these substances rather than the psychedelics examined within this survey.
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