Do College Students’ Views of Psychedelics Depend on the Context for Psychedelic Use?

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There are three unique contexts for psychedelic use: clinical therapies, naturalistic use, and microdosing. Emerging clinical psychedelic therapies in particular present a promising opportunity to reduce more harmful forms of substance use (e.g., alcohol, tobacco). To inform future research investigating opportunities for treatment and harm reduction, this study examined psychedelic-naïve college students’ views of psilocybin and LSD. Specifically, it compared participants’ expectancies, perceptions of benefits, and perceptions of harms across each context and examined relations between these views and levels of non-psychedelic substance use. Method: Participants completed multiple item pools assessing views of psychedelics, which were adapted from several previous studies; questions from the AUDIT, CUDIT-R, and DUDIT were used as proxies for other substance consumption. Data were analyzed at the item level using non- parametric techniques that are appropriate for categorical data (i.e., Friedman, sign, Cochran’s Q, and McNemar tests; Goodman and Kruskal’s gamma). Corrections for multiple comparisons were made using the Benjamini-Hochberg procedure. Data: Participants were 317 undergraduate students enrolled at a large, Southwestern US university (74.76% female; 80.76% white; 74.13% non-Hispanic), with a mean age of approximately 19.78 (SD = 3.09). All reported being psychedelic-naïve (i.e., never having consumed a psychedelic substance in their lifetime). Results: 29 omnibus tests assessing participants’ views of psychedelic substances across contexts were statistically significant; descriptive statistics and follow-up tests indicated that, when participants’ views of psychedelics were context dependent, they generally had the most positive views of clinical contexts, then microdosing, and then naturalistic contexts. 89 associations between participants’ views of psychedelic substances and their levels of non-psychedelic substance use were significant; these relationships all involved levels of cannabis use (not alcohol or other drugs); and they were all directionally positive, such that more positive views of psychedelics were associated with higher levels of substance use. Conclusions: Taken as a whole, these data indicate that psychedelic-naïve undergraduates tend to view clinical contexts for psychedelic use as the most beneficial and least risky, followed by microdosing, and lastly naturalistic contexts. However, a) this pattern may depend on how such perceptions are operationalized and measured and b) effect sizes of significant distinctions between contexts tended to be small. They may also exhibit stronger relationships between views of psychedelics and levels of cannabis use than views of psychedelics and levels of alcohol or other drug use. Implications include the importance of sharply defining differences between contexts to assess context-related variables as separate constructs where necessary (e.g., clearly explaining microdosing when an item/scale refers to that).

Embargo status: Restricted until 06/2024. To request the author grant access, click on the PDF link to the left.

psychedelics, clinical, naturalistic, microdosing, perceptions of benefits and harms, expectancies