More Adults, Fewer Teens, Are Using Psychedelics, Columbia University Study Finds

Zinger Key Points
  • Ecstasy and PCP use decreased in both adolescents and adults, data shows.
  • LSD use increased in all age groups.
More Adults, Fewer Teens, Are Using Psychedelics, Columbia University Study Finds

Ongoing discussions on whether psychedelics can help treat mental health conditions and improve quality of life have compelled officials and researchers to seek public opinion.

All psychedelics are listed as Schedule I substances though the FDA classified psychedelic-assisted treatments as “breakthrough therapy” in 2017. This was seen as a sign of support for research and development of substances among patients with life-threatening conditions, in that clinical trials indicated they may hold a substantial improvement over other therapeutics.

According to a recent U.S.-government funded survey an increasing number of adults are using psychedelics while adolescent use is declining.

Another study, led by Columbia University and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)looked at teen and adult hallucinogen use trends from 2002 to 2019 and reported similar results.

The Columbia study, which spans almost two decades, showed consumption by people 26 and older had spiked up to 5.5 million in 2019.

The research found a decrease in hallucinogen use among adolescents aged 12 to 17 between 2002 and 2019. This suggests that "public health prevention efforts, as well as policy changes to reduce availability, are effective in reducing hallucinogen use among adolescents," coauthor Ofir Livne said.

Beware The Media Hype

Deborah Hasin, who coauthored the study with Livne, warned about the media-announced “psychedelic revolution” paired with “commercialization and marketing that may further reduce the public perception of any risk.”

Hasin posited that researchers, clinicians and policymakers “should increase their attention to the rising rates of unsupervised hallucinogen use among the general public” and organize “preventive strategies.”

By The Numbers

According to the data:

  • More than 5.5 million people in the U.S. used hallucinogens in 2019.
  • That's an increase from 1.7% of the population (12 years and older) in 2002, to 2.2% in 2019.
  • Since 2002, the number of adults over 26-years-old using hallucinogens increased.
  • The numbers decreased in those aged between 12 and 17. 
  • Ecstasy and PCP use decreased in both adolescents and adults
  • LSD use increased in all age groups: Up to 4% of people aged 18-25 reported having used LSD in 2019, compared to 0.9% of people in 2002. This finding could be explained by a decline in the negative views about frequent LSD use.

“Our finding of an upward trend in 12-month LSD use, overall and by age, matches our finding of a downward trend in perception of LSD as risky," Hasin said. “Factors such as changes in risk perception, in the specific types of drugs available and in expectations of beneficial effects of ‘microdosing’ may all have led to increased use of certain hallucinogens in recent years."

Both Livne and Hasin referred to a 2021 Monitoring The Future (MTF) survey, which found that marijuana and general drug use in adolescents decreased significantly in that year.

Earlier MTF research showed that previous reports on use of psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD among college students nearly doubled from 2019 to 2020, growing from five to nine percent yet showed a lower use than in the 1990s and early 2000s.

According to MTF’s most recent poll: “Past-year hallucinogen use had been relatively stable over the past few decades until 2020, when reports of use started to increase dramatically. In 2021, 8% of young adults reported past-year hallucinogen use, representing an all-time high since the category was first surveyed in 1988. By comparison, in 2016, five percent of young adults reported past-year hallucinogen use, and in 2011, only three percent reported use.”

NIDA director Nora Volkow stressed the importance of knowing more about consumer habits.

“We need to know more about how young adults are using drugs like marijuana and hallucinogens, and the health effects that result from consuming different potencies and forms of these substances," Volkow said. “Young adults are in a critical life stage and honing their ability to make informed choices. Understanding how substance use can impact the formative choices in young adulthood is critical to help position the new generations for success.”

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