Mescaline is Associated with Major Positive Psychiatric Outcomes

June 29, 2021 08:00 am ET
Mescaline is Associated with Major Positive Psychiatric Outcomes

Research from Johns Hopkins has found that the “naturalistic use of mescaline is associated with self-reported psychiatric improvements and enduring positive life changes”. But what does this mean? What is mescaline? How is it used in a naturalist capacity? What kind of psychiatric improvements? Well, let’s have a look at the study, which was published in 2021, to better understand the significance of this finding. 

What is Mescaline?

Mescaline is a hallucinogenic compound that’s derived from the infamous Peyote cacti (peyote-cactus, Lophophora williamsii), the San Pedro cactus (trichocereus pachanoi), and the Peruvian Torch cactus (trichocereus peruvianus). According to research, the compound’s chemical structure is similar to that of amphetamine and is administered orally. The effects of this hallucinogen are said to, typically, last between 8 to 12 hours. 

The study’s team explains that mescaline is a naturally “occurring phenethylamine and a serotonin-2A/2C receptor agonist that can be prepared synthetically or extracted”. They go on to explain that this drug has been used for thousands of years by Native Americans- in “religious ceremonies and for the treatment of various physical ailments”. 

This substance is considered to be illegal by the authorities in the United States, but Native Americans recognize it as a sacrament. Interestingly enough, mescaline can be extracted from peyote, and when that is used in religious ceremonies, “it is exempt from its classification as a Schedule 1 controlled drug under the 1994 American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA)”. 

Research Explores the Therapeutic Effects

This study is the first international study to examine the use of mescaline and was published in ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science in March 2021. The team of researchers included Agin-Liebes, Haas, Lancelotta, Uthaug, Ramaekers, and Davis. The team of researchers began by explaining that “despite promising early preliminary research and favorable anecdotal reports, there is limited research investigating mescaline’s psychotherapeutic potential”. They also explain that psychiatric conditions are contributing “substantially to the global disease burden”. 

The team states that the “primary objective of this study was to explore the potential therapeutic and enduring effects of mescaline, and the mechanisms that may contribute to therapeutic effects”. They specifically assessed mescaline use for depression, anxiety, PTSD as well as alcohol and drug use disorders. 

The study involved the administration of “an anonymous online questionnaire to adults”, who had to report on their mescaline use in a naturalistic setting. This type of setting can be explained as the place and manner in which the substance is most naturally, or normally, being consumed. They recorded responses from around 452 participants and then proceeded to assess the self-reported improvements in “depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and alcohol and drug use disorder (AUD and DUD)”. Additionally, the study reported that 68-86% of their respondents who had histories of clinical conditions reported improvements after “their most memorable mescaline experience”. 

The survey consisted of wide-ranging questions and included:

  • mental health measure (to determine whether respondents have been diagnosed with a mental health condition)
  • psychological insight questionnaire (internal insight such as goals and avoidance)
  • mystical experiences questionnaire (measures phenomenological effects)
  • challenging experiences questionnaire (a measure of intensity)
  • ego dissolution inventory (to what extent the ego boundaries are impacted) 
  • persisting effects questionnaire (changes in attitude, mood, behavior, etc)

The study’s demographic characteristics from self-reporting participants:

  • Transgender or gender-fluid respondents with depression reported the highest percentage of improvement after having consumed mescaline with males and females having reported some improvement but the majority did not. 
  • Women with anxiety had the most improvement after consuming mescaline, with males and transgender or gender-fluid individuals reporting no change or worsening. 
  • Men and women who suffered from PTSD reported the most improvement after consuming the substance, while transgender or gender-fluid respondents reported no change or worsening. 
  • Men who struggle with alcohol misuse reported the most improvement, while the majority of women and transgender or gender-fluid respondents reported no change or worsening. 
  • Women struggling with drug misuse reported the most improvement, while the males and transgender or gender-fluid respondents reported no change or worsening. 

This is Only the Beginning for Psychedelics

While this positive association between the naturalistic use of mescaline and the self-reported psychiatric improvements, the researchers explain that the neurobiological effects of psychedelic-assisted therapy are still unidentified. They also explain that there seems to be a connection between “functional changes in regions responsible for emotional processing and self-reference”. 

Additionally, the team provided that there is a possibility that “general intentions for psychological or spiritual exploration” contributed to the improvements which were reported. However, the research which is exploring the mechanisms involved in psychedelic-assisted therapies is still in early phases. It should also be understood that this lack of research means that the long-term effects of mescaline consumption have not been investigated. Understanding the effects, mechanisms and potential long-term effects are crucial for considering the substance as a viable means for treating psychiatric conditions. 

The typical treatment of any psychiatric condition is usually a combination of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy, the success depends on access to care and the body’s response to the treatment. The team of researchers explains that these are the reasons for “necessitating further research into effective psychiatric treatment”- which should include mescaline and even ayahuasca or psilocybin

The respondents were asked to rate their mescaline experience and the majority reported that their mescaline experience was one of their, if not the one, most spiritually significant or meaningful experience. While these positive self-reported benefits of the substance show promise of a time with more effective treatment, consumers need to be cautious, especially since the long-term use effects are still being understood.

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