Want to Cut Crime? Hand Out Psychedelics

We could use a little peace, love and understanding.

Photo Credit: University of Alabama at Birmingham

New research suggests that psychedelic use is associated with a lesser likelihood of criminal behavior. The finding opens the door to further research on the use of classical psychedelics such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (peyote), in treatments aimed at reducing such behavior.

The research was done by a team of investigators at the University of Alabama at Birmingham led by Peter Hendricks, associate professor in of the Department of Health Behavior in the UAB School of Public Health. The results were published online last month by the Journal of Psychopharmacology

"These findings, coupled with both older and emerging bodies of evidence, make a case that classic psychedelics may provide enduring benefits for criminal justice populations," said Hendricks. "They certainly suggest that clinical research with classic psychedelics in forensic settings should be considered." 

The study used data compiled in 13 years' worth of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to analyze the relationship between psychedelic use and criminal behavior among the 480,000 adult respondents. Respondents were asked about their past use of a number of psychedelics, including ayahuasca, DMT, LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin mushrooms and about their criminal histories.

Researchers found that having ever used a psychedelic was associated with a 22% decrease in the odds of being arrested for a property crime and an 18% decrease for violent crime within the past year. Use of psilocybin (magic mushrooms) in particular was linked to a decreased likelihood of either property or violent crimes.  

"These findings are consistent with a growing body of research suggesting classic psychedelics confer enduring psychological and prosocial benefits," Hendricks said. "Classic psychedelics can produce primary mystical experiences — also known as primary religious experiences or peak experiences — and have been used for millennia across cultures with therapeutic intention."

The findings contribute to an ever more compelling rationale for the initiation of clinical research with classic psychedelics, including psilocybin, in forensic settings, Hendricks said.     

"The development of innovative and effective interventions to prevent criminal behavior is an obvious priority," he said. "Our findings suggest the protective effects of classic psychedelic use are attributable to genuine reductions in antisocial behavior rather than reflecting improved evasion of arrest. Simply put, the positive effects associated with classic psychedelic use appear to be reliable. Given the costs of criminal behavior, the potential represented by this treatment paradigm is significant."


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Phillip Smith has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. Smith is currently a senior writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute