What’s the connection between psychedelics such as ‘magic mushrooms’ and heart disease? It’s probably not what you think. Unlike drugs of abuse such as cocaine or alcohol, individuals who’ve used psychedelics at least once in their lifetime have been associated with a lower incidence of heart disease and diabetes, according to a new study.
Psychedelics likely have no biological influence on heart health, but researcher Otto Simonsson of the University of Oxford, who was in charge of the study, believes the results are owed to the fact that psychedelic experiences are often accompanied by dramatic changes in lifestyle. These may include spontaneously deciding to live a healthier life by taking up exercise or quitting alcohol and smoking.
“In our previous research, we have found associations between lifetime classic psychedelic use and lower odds of being overweight or obese as well as lower odds of having hypertension in the past year, both of which are risk factors of cardiometabolic disease,”Simonsson told PsyPost. “We therefore wanted to look specifically at the link between lifetime classic psychedelic use and cardiometabolic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.”
Psilocybin (the active psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms) and DMT activate serotonin receptors, potentially acting as appetite suppressors and reducing cravings. Ultimately, this may lead to weight loss and a reduced incidence of obesity, a huge risk factor for both cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Simonsson mentions in the study that psychedelics can improve mental health conditions associated with cardiometabolic diseases indirectly. By reducing anxiety and improving the odds of curbing addiction, psychedelics may reduce heart disease through behavioral change.
For their study, the researchers analyzed data pertaining to more than 375,000 Americans who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Among the questions they had to answer, the participants had to anonymously indicate whether or not they’ve ever tried PSD, DMT, ayahuasca, peyote, San Pedro, or any kind of psychedelic drug. Additionally, the participants reported their history of heart disease and diabetes in the past year, which the researchers employed to trace any link between the two factors.
According to the results, among those who used psychedelic substances, 2.3% reported heart disease and 3.95% said they were diagnosed with diabetes. In contrast, those who never used a psychedelic drug had a 4.5% incidence of heart disease and 7.7% of them had diabetes. The differences are nearly double in both instances.
“The results of this national survey-based study showed that lifetime classic psychedelic use was associated with both lower odds of heart disease in the past year and lower odds of diabetes in the past year, which indicates that classic psychedelic use might be beneficial for cardiometabolic health. The findings are novel and build on previous findings on the associations between lifetime classic psychedelic use and various markers of physical health, but there are several limitations inherent in the study design that merit consideration,” the authors wrote in the journal Nature.
The limitations that the authors mention include the cross-sectional design of the study, which makes determining causal inferences impossible. Secondly, the scientists had no information on the context of psychedelic use (for instance recreational), the dose, or the frequency of use.
In order to overcome these limitations and challenges, Simonsson would like to start a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study that is qualified to establish whether psychedelic use may indeed reduce the risk of metabolic disease and by which mechanisms.