Background: Growing numbers of people are using psychedelics for personal psychotherapy outside clinical settings, but research on such use is scarce.
Aims: This study investigated the patterns of use, self-reported outcomes and outcome predictors of psychedelic ‘self-treatment’ of mental health conditions or specific worries/concerns in life.
Methods: We use data from the Global Drug Survey 2020, a large online survey on drug use collected between November 2019 and February 2020. In all, 3364 respondents reported their self-treatment experiences with lysergic acid diethylamide (N = 1996) or psilocybin mushrooms (N = 1368). The primary outcome of interest was the 17-item self-treatment outcome scale, items reflecting aspects of well-being, psychiatric symptoms, social-emotional skills, and health behaviours.
Results: Positive changes were observed across all 17 outcome items, with the strongest benefits on items related to insight and mood. Negative effects were reported by 22.5% of respondents. High intensity of psychedelic experience, seeking advice before treatment, treating with psilocybin mushrooms and treating post-traumatic stress disorder were associated with higher scores on the self-treatment outcome scale after averaging values across all 17 items. Younger age, high intensity of experience and treating with LSD were associated with increased number of negative outcomes.
Conclusions: This study brings important insights into self-treatment practices with psychedelics in a large international sample. Outcomes were generally favourable, but negative effects appeared more frequent than in clinical settings. Our findings can help inform safe practices of psychedelic use in the community, and inspire clinical research. Future research can be improved with utilisation of prospective designs and additional predictive variables.