For centuries, cultures outside the U.S. have used substances like magic mushrooms to enhance spirituality or help heal the mind. But in America, reactions to Timothy Leary and the 1960s counterculture drove these practices underground, all but dooming our ability to study their effects. Now, after decades of time and the easing of fears towards things like marijuana, magic mushrooms are back on the table.
Rather than playing the culprit in terrifying headlines, they’ve received more dispassionate treatment in books like Michael Pollan’s How To Change Your Mind and from media outlets like CNN or NPR, and influential companies like Netflix. Crucially, these conversations are gaining steam in 2020, a year that has wrought significant psychological — on top of physical — suffering.
After Oregon and Washington, D.C. voted to decriminalize magic mushrooms in November, CivicScience thought it was high time to check in on last year’s psychedelics study to see how Americans feel about these drugs. Could shrooms become the next marijuana? How much has the past year changed our minds?
Decriminalizing Shrooms vs. Clinical Use
The short answer is that public opinion has changed a bit in favor of psychedelics, though the groups changing the most may not be what you’d expect. Overall, comfortability with decriminalizing magic mushrooms increased several percentage points. Last year, 36% of adults were at least somewhat comfortable with the idea, compared to 40% this year. Reinforcing the trend, the portion of those who aren’t comfortable dropped by five percentage points, indicating that Americans have recently become less fearful of magic mushrooms in general.
Likewise, the clinical use of psilocybin—the magic maker in magic mushrooms—to treat anxiety or depression remains fairly popular. Those who reporting being ‘very comfortable’ with this usage went up a percentage point, while those who were reluctant dropped by two. As it stands, just under half of Americans now support the use of psilocybin for therapy.
Older Folks Feeding Their Heads
One of the most interesting trends over the past year revolves around who has become more supportive of psychedelics. Younger people who have no memory of the moral panic over LSD and shrooms? Not so much. Gen Z as well as 25- to 34-year-olds became less comfortable over the last year, with high and moderate comfortability dropping significantly.
Comfortability among older generations is a different story, though. A small portion of those 35- to 54-year-olds were turned on to decriminalizing magic mushrooms over the last year, but the over-55 crowd made the real difference. Among respondents 55 or older, those who are very comfortable with decriminalization shot up. There’s also been sea change in discomfort: the portion of those over 55 who don’t like the thought of decriminalizing shrooms plummeted from 70% to 53% in the past year.
As with decriminalization, younger people became slightly more reluctant about clinical use while older people showed more interest. The “very comfortable” members of younger generations (under 34) dropped a number of percentage points. The overall portion of those 55 and older who feel okay with psilocybin being used to treat mental illness is higher now than that of Gen Zers.
A Nation Under the Influence
Lots of factors could be driving this trend. Mainstream media outlets airing programs on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics could be informing more people. Widespread use and ever-increasing sales of CBD may also be related. After all, cannabidiol users, who may take CBD products for anxiety or depression, are three times as likely to be very comfortable with shrooms compared to those who haven’t tried CBD before.
Trends this year are almost impossible to consider without weighing the influence of COVID 19. Economic, societal, and existential fears have all exacerbated mental health problems in the U.S., and the necessity of social distancing has only made it harder to cope. This could help explain why those bracing for longer social-distancing timeframes are also more willing to support the use of psychedelics to combat depression and anxiety.
In a similar vein, this could shed light on why older Americans, who tend to be more vulnerable to the virus, have come around on the psychological benefits of psychedelics more than younger ones in 2020.
Despite some wavering in the ranks of Gen Zers and the generation above them, the decriminalization and clinical use of psychedelics gained a little more support this year, with the most impressive changes coming from older Americans. There is still a ways to go before this trend plays out, but if people’s overall comfortability continues to rise, a new tool for fighting mental illness may be in play.