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Study: Psychedelic drugs may reduce domestic violence

Inmates at a U.S. jail who'd used LSD, mushrooms or ecstasy were less likely to commit acts of domestic violence after release, researchers report.

By Stephen Feller
Study: Psychedelic drugs may reduce domestic violence
The transcendent experience reported by users of psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin, the compound in magic mushrooms, pictured above, may change the worldview of a person to help lower the likelihood of committing acts of domestic violence. Photo by FARMER DODDS/Shutterstock

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, April 28 (UPI) -- Men with a history of using psychedelic drugs such as LSD and ecstasy, even just once, were found to be less likely to commit acts of domestic violence, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia followed male prisoners for five years, finding those who'd used the drugs at some point were significantly less likely to be arrested after release from jail.

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LSD and psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, as well as newer drugs such as MDMA and other forms of ecstasy, have generally been illegal in the United States since the 1970s.

Their classification as dangerous drugs also means research into therapeutic uses of the drugs is illegal, so while studies before the government reclassified them showed potential with patients, not much has been done with them in the last 50 years.

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Increasingly, researchers are looking for ways to test anecdotal evidence of psychological improvements seen in people who have used the drugs, either under the supervision of a medical professional or not.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia chose to follow people who reported use of the drugs and how their future actions were different from inmates who had never used psychedelics. They found the "profound experiences" often discussed by people who have taken a psychedelic drug but widely mocked by those who haven't may be the difference between some inmates who committed acts of domestic violence after release and those who did not.

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"Although we're attempting to better understand how or why these substances may be beneficial, one explanation is that they can transform people's lives by providing profoundly meaningful spiritual experiences that highlight what matters most," Dr. Peter Hendricks, an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in a press release. "Often, people are struck by the realization that behaving with compassion and kindness toward others is high on the list of what matters."

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For the study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers recruited 302 inmates at a county jail in the United States with a history of substance use disorders, following them for an average six years after they were released.

Of inmates who had never taken psychedelic drugs, 42 percent were arrested within six years of release for domestic battery, compared to 27 percent of those who had taken one of the drugs at least once in their lives.

The researchers theorize experiences of "unity, positivity and transcendence" has an effect on people's worldview, especially people who feel marginalized and isolated, such as men in prison, regardless of what got them there.

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"While not a clinical trial, this study, in stark contrast to prevailing attitudes that views these drugs as harmful, speaks to the public health potential of psychedelic medicine," said Dr. Zach Walsh, co-director for the Center for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law at the University of British Columbia. "As existing treatments for intimate partner violence are insufficient, we need to take new perspectives such as this seriously."

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