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New research associates psychedelic use with a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes. Victor Dyomin/Getty Images
  • A new study has found that people who have taken a classic psychedelic even once have a lower incidence of heart disease and diabetes.
  • It remains uncertain whether there is simply a correlation or a causal connection.
  • It is also unclear, the study authors note, whether people with access to psychedelics tend to demonstrate lifestyle behaviors that are linked with cardiometabolic health.
  • The researchers suspect that if any connection exists, it is that psychedelic use promotes a healthier lifestyle through behavioral changes.

Since ancient times, practitioners of traditional medicine across the globe have turned to plants and fungi with psychedelic properties in the hopes of healing the mind and spirit. New research suggests a link between psychedelics and a healthy body, as well.

The study finds a strong association between lifetime use of classic psychedelics and lower rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

This observational research does not explore or assert a causal relationship between the compounds and heart health or diabetes. It establishes only a correlation.

“No one should read this paper and think that using psychedelics is a good way to prevent heart disease or diabetes,” Dr. Edo Paz of K Health told Medical News Today in an email. Dr. Paz was not involved in the research.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Otto Simonsson, explained to MNT, “We still know very little about the long-term effects of classic psychedelics on physical health. We are in the early days.”

The study paper has been published in Scientific Reports.

The psychedelics considered “classic” fall into three classes, each with similar structures and mechanisms of action. All, however, primarily act as serotonin 2A receptor agonists.

The three classes of drugs are:

  • Tryptamine: This class includes DMT, ayahuasca, which contains DMT, and mushrooms’ psilocybin.
  • Lysergamides: Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, is the only psychedelic in this class.
  • Phenethylamines: This class includes mescaline, peyote cacti that contain mescaline, and San Pedro.

Given the medicinal use of psychedelics throughout human history, scientists in the mid-20th century began testing their potential value in treating mood disorders and addiction, often with encouraging results.

However, the criminalization of many of these compounds by the 1970s led to a reduction in psychedelics research.

The 21st century has seen renewed psychedelic advocacy, new funding, and the fading of stigma associated with these substances, and scientists have returned to studying them. In 2000, Johns Hopkins University was the first to receive regulatory approval for psychedelic research, which included healthy volunteers.

The present study was based on data from the 2015–2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which included responses from 171,766 adults in the United States aged at least 18.

Use of psychedelics was associated with a 23% lower chance of heart disease and a 12% lower chance of diabetes.

The authors explain:

“Respondents who reported having tried a classic psychedelic at least once in their lifetime had lower odds of heart disease in the past year and lower odds of diabetes in the past year.”

The research follows an earlier analysis of the same data by Dr. Simonsson and senior investigator Prof. Peter S. Hendricks. Dr. Simonsson explained that it “found associations between lifetime classic psychedelic use and lower odds of being overweight, as well as lower odds of having hypertension in the past year.”

Of the new study’s closer look, he said, “It was therefore not completely surprising to find that lifetime classic psychedelic use was also associated with lower odds of heart disease and diabetes in the past year.”

Addressing the connection between psychedelics, heart disease, and diabetes, Dr. Simonsson cited another study.“There is an in-depth review paper suggesting that psychedelics — if administered in the proper context — may be conducive to good physical health by promoting positive lifestyle change. This is our working hypothesis, too.”

Dr. Paz told MNT that he suspected that “People who have tried psychedelic medications probably have other characteristics that differentiate them from people who have not tried psychedelics, and it is those characteristics that are associated with a lower risk of heart disease or diabetes.”

“So if you want to reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes,” explained Dr. Paz, “do not reach for psychedelics. Focus on a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, and maintain a healthy weight. You should also know your blood pressure and your cholesterol levels, and work to keep those in a healthy range.”

Whatever the causal link, if any, the study authors write that their investigation demonstrates the need for “further research to investigate potential causal pathways of classic psychedelics on cardiometabolic health (i.e., lifestyle changes, mental health benefits, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory characteristics, and affinity to specific serotonin receptor subtypes).”