No, you’re not hallucinating. At least not yet.
Psychedelics are undergoing a revival. Over the past decade, prominent researchers have been finding more and more evidence for the use of psychedelics in treating conditions like anxiety, depression, and addiction.
What’s more, the benefits of these drugs might not be confined to the clinic. In May, Denver became the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize magic mushrooms. Weeks later, the city council in Oakland, California decriminalized naturally occurring psychedelics, and organizers in Oregon have begun petitioning the state to add the issue to the 2020 ballot.
You’ve at least heard of the panic that gripped the country in the mid-1960s as people (mostly youngsters) were turned on to mind-altering drugs. But as Michael Pollan points out in his new book, How To Change Your Mind, psychedelics weren’t new. Before the counterculture had them, psychologists had written a thousand peer-reviewed studies on these substances and held six international conferences to discuss their benefits. Even Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, had sought to use LSD in the program.
Then the drugs escaped the lab. Timothy Leary, who ran the Harvard Psilocybin Project, began promoting psychedelics, telling hippies and Vietnam War protestors to “turn on, tune in, drop out.” Surprising no one, the government outlawed psychedelics, and Richard Nixon declared Leary the most dangerous man in America.
That was decades ago. But are we out from under the long shadow of the Sixties? Are people ready to accept the use of psychedelics in the culture?
To find out, CivicScience asked more than 2,000 adults how they feel about decriminalization and the use of psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, to treat anxiety and depression. The results, as usual, are eye-opening.
When it comes to comfortability over magic mushrooms being decriminalized, it’s fair to say U.S. adults are wary. But the numbers are far from definitive. Forty-one percent say they’re not okay with decriminalization. Yet 36% are comfortable with it, and more than one-fifth aren’t sure.
The results get even more interesting when psilocybin is put in a clinical context. For starters, comfortability among adults jumps to 44% and discomfort drops to 27%. Additionally, in what is probably the most important point for future research, 30% of adults say their minds aren’t made up, signaling at the very least a willingness to hear the science.
Mindset Makes a Difference
One of the more curious aspects of psychedelics is their susceptibility to influence, or what therapists call “set and setting.” That is, your mindset going into the experience and the atmosphere in which you take the drugs. Atmosphere can be controlled, of course, but what about mindset? What perspectives do different people already have?
It’s no surprise that younger adults, far removed from the 1960s, are more amenable to the decriminalization of magic mushrooms. A quarter of Gen Z and a third of Millennials say they’re totally fine with decriminalizing magic mushrooms. As for adults who might remember Leary’s antics? Only one in ten reports the same feelings, with almost 60% outright opposed to it.
But once again the authority of clinicians carries weight. Boomers’ skepticism drops significantly when they’re asked about using psilocybin to treat anxiety and depression. And though Gen X is not as opposed to decriminalization, its wariness also declines when psilocybin is used therapeutically, falling from 36% to 24%.
Gender fits the pattern, too. Men appear a bit more certain of their assessments, whether positive or negative, and they are more open to decriminalization than women. But when magic mushrooms are put in the hands of therapists, comfortability goes up for both genders.
The New Marijuana?
It’s tempting to link the favorability of psychedelics like magic mushrooms to the rising popularity of legal marijuana, but psychedelics aren’t the new cannabis, and they may never be. Sixty-eight percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, regulating and taxing it like alcohol. But less than half of them say they’re comfortable with decriminalizing magic mushrooms. In fact, the majority is opposed to it, though once again these numbers shift to a more favorable light when psilocybin is used to treat psychological conditions.
Furthermore, a number of adults who support decriminalizing magic mushrooms may not want them to become the new marijuana. The majority of adults oppose state legalization, taxation, and regulation of magic mushrooms—and ten percent of that group are supporters of decriminalizing the drugs. The results might seem bizarre, even counterintuitive until we remember the history of government intervention in the use of psychedelics.
Tomorrow Never Knows
Though more hot-button than marijuana, psychedelics no longer elicit the immense fear they once did, and fears are reduced even further when clinicians get involved. As one researcher in How To Change Your Mind sees it, “our culture has come a long way from the 1960s and has shown a remarkable ability to digest a great many of the cultural novelties first cooked up during that era.”
But will this be the fate of psychedelics? Maybe. There are still many more people to win over. As The Beatles—or more correctly, Ringo—tried to put it, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” We’ll have to wait and see. So be sure to check back for the latest on this mind-blowing topic.