Psychedelics and meditation produce major improvements in mental health, research shows
By Eric W. Dolan
A new study has found a positive association between mindfulness practice, psychedelic use, and overall psychological wellbeing. The findings have been published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.
“Psychedelics as a topic is exploding back into both popular culture and academic study, the potential here is tremendous,” said study author Tianhong Tim Qiu of Western University. “Rightfully, much of present research is focused on clinical/medical applications, often as alternative treatments for mental health disorders. However, many users have claimed (anecdotally) great benefits to their own psychological wellbeing. That is, healthy people may also experience profound enhancement of their lives induced by psychedelics and often outside of any clinical context.”
“The motivation for this study is simple: I sought to find out if ordinary people who use psychedelics experience some measurable benefit — without doctor supervision, without treatment protocols, and without artificially designed sets and settings,” Qiu explained. “Finally, mindfulness experienced a similar resurgence in interest about two decades ago and is only becoming more relevant today. The parallels between mindfulness and psychedelics are uncannily similar and so it was worth including and comparing to better understand both topics.”
For their study, the researchers surveyed 1,219 individuals regarding their meditation practices and psychedelic drug use. The participants also completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, which measures a person’s generally tendency to be mindful, and the Mystical Experience Questionnaire, which measures a various aspects of the psychedelic experience. The participants also completed self-reported assessments of positive and negative mood states over the past week, life satisfaction, meaning in life, wisdom, depression, anxiety, and stress.
Participants who practiced meditation tended to score higher on the measure of trait mindfulness and mystical experiences, and those who reported using psychedelic drugs tended to have more intense mystical experiences and greater trait mindfulness.
Greater trait mindfulness was associated with better mood, better mental health, greater wisdom, and greater satisfaction with life. Greater mindfulness was also associated with increased presence of meaning in life, but decreased search for meaning in life. Similarly, participants who reported having more intense mystical experiences tended to also have greater positive affect, presence of meaning in life, and life satisfaction.
“This study shows that ordinary psychedelic users and mindfulness practitioners are reporting some measurable enhancement of psychological wellbeing on average, outside of medical supervision or treatment-focused approaches,” Qiu told PsyPost. “In other words, psychedelics and mindfulness hold promise in enhancing the lives of healthy people, and not just those who are struggling.”
But the study, like all research, has limitations. The majority of the participants were recruited from online interest communities related to psychedelics and meditation, such as the “/r/drugs” subforum on the website Reddit. It is possible that the study failed to recruit individuals who had negative experiences with psychedelic drugs or meditation.
“Effectively, this study went out and put numbers to the anecdotal claims that psychedelics or mindfulness has improved one’s life and psychological wellbeing,” Qiu said. “This study is not a randomized control trial and therefore cannot be taken as strong, causal evidence that psychedelics do indeed improve one’s life for sure. Our study roughly says, ‘hey, there’s this community of people who are very excited about this thing (psychedelics and mindfulness), and when you run the numbers, they might actually be on to something.’ It is a correlation, but a very interesting one!”
“These days it is tempting to believe that science has the world truly figured out,” Qiu added. “However, the field of psychedelics is one in which we understand terrifyingly little. There are no ‘true’ experts or authorities in this domain yet, so take everything you see with a grain of salt, including the present study.”
“We’re not talking about Newton’s laws or Maxwell’s equations where every time you drive a car or send a text, you’re validating these solid pieces of human knowledge. Psychedelics research is a baby science, we are only at the beginning and there is so much yet to discover, which is also why it’s so exciting!”
The study, “Psychedelic Experiences and Mindfulness are Associated with Improved Wellbeing“, was authored by Tianhong Tim Qiu and John Paul Minda.