Could Psychedelics Help Reduce Domestic Violence?

We know alcohol has a role, but another class of drugs appears to have a calming effect.

Photo Credit: agsandrew / Shutterstock.com

A study led by researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Public Health has found that hallucinogens such as LSD and psilocybin may have therapeutic potential in reducing domestic violence, or in the preferred terminology of the study, "intimate partner violence."

Domestic violence is a serious social problem, with 20 people being beaten or otherwise assaulted every minute, adding up to more than 10 million incidents every year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The coalition reports that one in three women and one in four men have suffered domestic violence over the course of their lives. 

Psychedelics appear to reduce the prevalence of domestic violence, said study co-author Peter S. Hendricks, a UAB associate professor of public health. 

"A body of evidence suggests that substances such as psilocybin may have a range of clinical indications," he said. "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. Often, people are struck by the realization that behaving with compassion and kindness toward others is high on the list of what matters." 

The study examined 302 men between the ages of 17 and 40 who were in the criminal justice system. More than half (56%) reported having used psychedelics. Of those, only 27% had later been arrested for domestic violence, compared to 42% among those who had never used psychedelics. 

This study is one among many heralding a renaissance in the study of psychedelics for medical and spiritual purposes. From the 1950s to the '70s, there were thousands of studies on the medical uses of hallucinogens, but war on drugs policies classifying the most well-known psychedelics as Schedule I controlled substances brought such research to an abrupt end for decades. Now, that is changing.   

"Recent studies have shown that psilocybin and related compounds could revolutionize the mental health field," Hendricks said. "However, additional research is needed. This study suggests that hallucinogens could be a useful avenue for reducing IPV, meaning this topic deserves further attention." 

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.

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