Psychedelic Drug Use Associated with Reduced Criminal Behavior

"A new study reports people who have used a classic psychedelic are significantly less likely to commit a crime or indulge in criminal behavior. However, use of other controlled substances is linked to an increased risk of criminal behavior, researchers report." Image credit: afgooey74/Flickr

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have found a correlation between psychedelic drug use and lower rates of criminal behavior, ranging from theft and property crimes to more violent crimes like assault. The study, published last month in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, indicates treatments using classic psychedelics like psilocybin could significantly reduce criminal behavior.

“These findings, coupled with both older and emerging bodies of evidence, make a case that classic psychedelics may provide enduring benefits for criminal justice populations,” said Peter Hendricks, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Health Behavior, in the UAB School of Public Health. “They certainly suggest that clinical research with classic psychedelics in forensic settings should be considered.”

The researchers used data from the last 13 available years of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to study 480,000 U.S. adults:

Survey respondents were asked about past use of a number of classic psychedelics including ayahuasca (a traditional spiritual medicine among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin), dimethyltryptamine, LSD, mescaline, peyote or San Pedro (mescaline-containing cacti used for centuries in traditional indigenous rituals), and psilocybin mushrooms.

Their findings were significant:

Having ever used a classic psychedelic was associated with a 27 percent decrease in the odds of committing larceny/theft, a 12 percent decrease in the odds of committing assault, a 22 percent decrease in the odds of arrest for a property crime, and an 18 percent decrease in the odds of arrest for a violent crime in the past year. Illicit use of other substances, in contrast, was largely associated with an increased likelihood of criminal behavior at or above the trend level.

Hendricks would like to see further investigation into the possibilities classic psychedelics and believes his team's findings could be the impetus:

“The development of innovative and effective interventions to prevent criminal behavior is an obvious priority,” he said. “Our findings suggest the protective effects of classic psychedelic use are attributable to genuine reductions in antisocial behavior rather than reflecting improved evasion of arrest. Simply put, the positive effects associated with classic psychedelic use appear to be reliable. Given the costs of criminal behavior, the potential represented by this treatment paradigm is significant.”