Perceptions of the medicinal value of hallucinogenic drugs among college students, Jared I. WILDBERGER et al., 2017

Perceptions of the medicinal value of hallucinogenic drugs among college students


Journal of Psychedelic Studies, 2017, 1(2), pp. 50–54

DOI: 10.1556/2054.01.2017.008


Background : This survey examined perceptions among college students about the potential medicinal benefits of hallucinogenic drugs. Current research and potential benefits include an ability to help anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction with hallucinogen-assisted psychotherapy.

Methods : We devised and administered a survey on 124 students at two college campuses, one small private college in the mid-Atlantic and one medium-sized public university in the Midwest of the United States. Results: Responses were similar across campuses, and in general, participants were reluctant to agree that hallucinogens can be therapeutic to the seven afflictions we questioned them about. However, the survey also revealed that a majority of participants believed there should be further research done exploring the medicinal benefits of such drugs. Conclusion: These findings shed light on perceptions of hallucinogens as their use is being applied to a host of afflictions.

Keywords : hallucinogens, college survey, psychedelic therapy, drug trends, LSD



Hallucinogenic drugs have a history of being both accepted and rejected in our society. For example, the mescalinecontaining peyote plant was therapeutically used by Native Americans for over 5,000 years, and was even commercially sold in the early 20th century in the United States (Calabrese, 2007). On the other hand, when hallucinogenic plants were used by shamans and healers in the middle ages, they became associated with witchcraft and paganism and their usage was condemned (Schultes, Hofmann, & Rätsch, 1979). The laboratory study of hallucinogens began with Hofmann’s synthesis of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in 1938. Since then, hallucinogen-assisted psychotherapy has been used to treat many treatment-resistant psychiatric disorders. Psychotherapy sessions with hallucinogens were beneficial to those with addictions (Krebs & Johansen, 2012). Furthermore, in England, there were outpatient centers for hallucinogen-assisted psychotherapy. However, many of the experiments during this period were largely anecdotal, lacked a control group, or had other experimental flaws (Sigafoos, Green, Edrisinha, & Lancioni, 2007). Despite these methodological shortcomings, hallucinogens were a promising and emerging option to treating mental illness. Furthermore, hallucinogens are largely safe when administered in a controlled environment (Gasser et al., 2014; Ludewig, Ludewig, Hasler, & Vollenweider, 2003), and are ingested both recreationally and for self-treatment of various conditions or afflictions (Spring, Ostrow, & Hallock, 2016).

Public opinion began taking a negative stance on hallucinogens during the 1960s. The Central Intelligence Agency had begun their own testing into the drugs after the Second World War and found that they produced negative mental reactions, including suicide (Marks, 1979). As recreational use of hallucinogens grew, panic grew as hospitals began admitting individuals with “LSD-induced schizophrenia,” coupled with misguided fears of the drug’s ability to damage the human chromosome (Cohen, Marinello, & Back, 1967; Ungerleider, Fisher, & Fuller, 1966). Hallucinogenic drugs like LSD eventually became federally outlawed in the United States in 1968 (Grob, 1994; Lee & Shlain, 1985). Similarly, methylenedioxymethamphetamine was once seen as a promising therapeutic drug (Buffum &Moser, 1986; Sessa, 2012) until public deaths occurred and studies overestimating the drug’s potential harm were published (Gouzoulis-Mayfrank et al., 2000; Ricaurte, Yuan, Hatzidimitriou, Cord, & McCann, 2002). A small resurgence of research on the utility of hallucinogens began in the 1990s (Strassman, 2001). Since 2000, hallucinogens have been tested to treat obsessive–compulsive disorder (Moreno, Wiegend, Taitano, & Delgado, 2006), depression (Zarate et al., 2006), anxiety-associated with end-stage cancer (Gasser, Kirchner, & Passie, 2015), posttraumatic stress disorder (Amoroso, 2015; Mithoefer, Wagner, Mithoefer, Jerome, & Doblin, 2010), nicotine addiction
(Johnson, Garcia-Romeu, Cosimano, & Griffiths, 2014), and additional studies with other applications are ongoing. Here, we examined the views of college student on the medicinal properties and adverse effects of hallucinogenic drugs. Recent research has shown that college students positively view certain hallucinogens, and most users describe the experience as beneficial in some manner (Carhart- Harris & Nutt, 2010; Hallock, Dean, Knecht, Spencer, & Taverna, 2013). Here, we sought to extend the findings of Hallock et al. (2013) and investigate whether recent positive findings from scientific research were impacting the views of college students about the drugs. We administered a survey on two college campuses that geographically differed and by the demographics of the student body.