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‘Significant’ decrease in violence: UBCO study of psychedelic drug use

Michelle Thiessen is a clinical psychology graduate student and study lead author.
Michelle Thiessen is a clinical psychology graduate student and study lead author. UBCO

A new study by UBC Okanagan says men who have used psychedelic drugs have a lower likelihood of committing violence against their partners.

The study was published last month in the in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. According to the authors, it was based on an anonymous online questionnaire of 1,266 people, between the ages of 16 and 70. Respondents were asked to disclose their lifetime use of psychedelic and then complete a questionnaire that assessed multiple aspects of their emotion regulation.

“Although use of certain drugs like alcohol, methamphetamine or cocaine is associated with increased aggression and partner violence, use of psychedelics appears to have the opposite effect,” clinical psychology graduate student and study lead author Michelle Thiessen said in a press release. “We found that among men who have used psychedelics one or more times, the odds of engaging in partner violence was reduced by roughly half. That’s significant.”

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Thiessen says her results could lead to treatments to reduce violence.

“These findings add to the literature on the positive use of psychedelics and suggest that future research should explore the potential for psychedelic therapies to help address the international public health priority of reducing domestic violence.”

UBC professor and supervising author Zach Walsh added that “previous research from our lab that looked at men in the criminal justice system found that hallucinogen users were substantially less likely to perpetrate violence against their intimate partners. Our new study is important because it suggests that these effects might also apply to the general population.”

According to the authors, psychedelic drugs act on serotonin receptors in the brain. Classic psychedelics include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), mescaline and dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The effects vary but can produce mystical experiences and changes in perception, emotion, cognition and the sense of self. Classic psychedelics are not considered to be addictive.

Thiessen said “past research found a clear association between psychedelic drug use and reduced partner violence, but the reasons for this effect remained unclear. We found that better ability to manage negative emotions may help explain why the hallucinogen users were less violent.”

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