A new study published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology sheds light on the mechanism connecting psychedelic use to improved mental health. The study found evidence of a pathway whereby the use of psychedelics increases spirituality, and in turn, leads to better emotion regulation.
This improved emotion regulation then appears to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and disordered eating.
Psychedelic drugs like psilocybin and ayahuasca have been used in spiritual ceremonies for thousands of years in non-Western cultures. More recently, psychedelics have captured the attention of Westerners, and scientific interest in the medicinal effects of these drugs has resurfaced. While studies have begun to uncover therapeutic effects, the mechanism behind these effects remains largely a mystery.
Study authors Adele Lafrance and her colleagues say that increased spirituality and improvements in emotion regulation have been revealed as key side effects of psychedelic use. The researchers proposed that the use of psychedelics may be connected to positive mental health through increased spiritual connection, which then facilitates emotion regulation.
Lafrance and her team distributed a questionnaire among 159 psychedelic users between the ages of 18 and 69. The participants reported their lifetime psychedelic use and rated their spirituality. They also completed measures of emotion regulation difficulties, depression, anxiety, and disordered eating.
The vast majority (96%) of participants reported using psilocybin in the past, and a third (33%) of participants reported having used more than one type of psychedelic.
Using regression analyses, the researchers found that participants with more frequent psychedelic use reported greater spirituality, and those with greater spirituality had fewer difficulties with emotion regulation. They also found that participants with more difficulties regulating their emotions had higher depression, anxiety, and disordered eating scores.
In other words, participants with fewer emotion regulation difficulties had better mental health. Finally, a mediation model revealed that psychedelic use was indirectly related to depression, anxiety, and disordered eating through spirituality and emotion regulation.