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Author Topic: Alternative beliefs in psychedelic drug users  (Read 3671 times)

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Alternative beliefs in psychedelic drug users
« on: October 03, 2023, 01:23:01 PM »
source: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-023-42444-z

Alternative beliefs in psychedelic drug users

30 September 2023

Abstract

Previous research has suggested that classical psychedelics can foster significant and enduring changes in personality traits and subjective wellbeing. Despite the lack of evidence for adverse effects on mental health stemming from psychedelic use, concerns persist regarding the capacity of these substances to modulate information processing and attitudes towards factual data.

The aim of the present study was to investigate the propensity for accepting alternative facts and the general treatment of knowledge within a sample of 392 participants, 233 of whom reported at least a single incidence of psychedelic use in their lifetime. To do this, we leveraged step-wise methods of linear modelling investigating effects of demographics, psychiatric conditions and concomitant drug use.

Our findings revealed a moderate positive association between psychedelic use and beliefs in alternative facts, as well as the specific belief that facts are politically influenced. However, no links were found for favouring intuition over evidence when confirming facts. Among other investigated drugs, only alcohol was negatively associated with beliefs in alternative facts.

Taken together, our results support the link between psychedelic use and non-conformist thinking styles, which can be attributed to the psychological effects of the drugs themselves, but may also mirror a common trait related to unconventional beliefs and illicit substance use.

Introduction

Over the last decade, several nations have initiated policies to liberalize drug use. Following cannabis, classical psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin, and DMT are the group of substances most impacted by these reforms. These changes have been partially inspired by the effect of these substances on mental health and wellbeing, as well as by evidence from several small-scale clinical trials showcasing their medicinal utility.

Notably, these substances have been proposed as potential treatments for a variety of psychiatric conditions including posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and certain addictions. The current landscape calls for further studies focusing on the previously under-explored impacts of psychedelics to better comprehend their recreational and medicinal contexts.

Beyond the scarcity of data related to possible adverse effects, the impact of psychedelics on several psychological aspects has not been meticulously studied. For instance, while there exists a substantial corpus of research exploring the relationship between drugs and personality structure, few studies have probed how these substances might influence individuals' belief systems. Nevertheless, it has been hypothesized that the effects of certain substances, like psychedelics, may catalyse changes in life attitudes, as well as political and environmental views.

This premise, however, has been challenged by more recent studies conducted with larger samples. In the wake of these findings, some researchers posit that the eventual prohibition of psychedelic drugs was, to a degree, politically motivated. An example of this is the concern that the non-conformist perspectives and conspiracy ideation emerging from the rising counter-culture linked with psychedelic use might negatively impact society.

Beliefs in alternative facts and conspiracy theories span a broad spectrum of themes with diverse magnitudes of impact on individual and societal wellbeing. Some can potentially be detrimental to physical and mental health, some may pose social threats, whilst other conspiracy ideas may be more neutral to the societal and individual functioning. Moreover, some contend that certain conspiracy ideation can be seen as healthy scepticism or a way of challenging societal and ideological norms. Others contend that there are significant differences that distinguish conspiracy theories from the hidden political agendas that happen behind the scenes of most governments.

While there exists a considerable body of research on pathological conspiracy ideation, it's crucial to remember that to date, there are no universally accepted tools to differentiate between authentic conspiracy theorists and so-called “healthy sceptics” within the general population.

Considerable effort has been made to examine the associations between the use of various drugs and personality structure, which are foundational for the formation of diverse belief systems. An interdisciplinary group of researchers, for instance, identified significant differences in personality profiles between drug users and non-drug users. In addition to certain commonalities, some personality traits appeared to be drug-specific. Alcohol use and abuse, for instance, has been associated with high levels of extraversion.

This aligns with the perception of alcohol as a “social lubricant” that diminishes defences, engenders trust, and thus enhances sociability. This perspective was corroborated in a study assessing the impacts of alcohol consumption on social interactions and generalized trust, which were both found to be positively correlated with alcohol consumption. Besides fostering interpersonal relationships on an individual level, generalized trust can be regarded as an integral component of social capital, a concept that also encompasses social networks, norms, and support.

According to social capital theory, trust acts as the adhesive binding society together and is associated with faith in political institutions and satisfaction with democracy. Interestingly, social capital, in the form of community-level participation has also been linked to alcohol consumption. This illustrates how alcohol, relative to other drugs, may be viewed as normative and might contribute to promoting more conventional viewpoints as opposed to non-conformist ones.

Along with nicotine and cannabis, psychedelic drug use, on the other hand, has been linked to openness, a personality trait tied to non-conformity and liberalism. In most population studies probing these links, it is challenging, if not impossible, to deduce causal relationships between personality structure and patterns of drug use; that is, whether a drug induces a personality change or whether a particular personality structure predisposes an individual to prefer a certain type of drug. However, this association has been investigated more thoroughly for classical psychedelics in a series of experimental studies demonstrating enduring increases in personality trait openness following a single psychedelic experience. The same has been observed for nature-relatedness and, to a less conclusive degree, for shifts in political views.

While these findings are indeed significant, there remains a gap in the literature regarding the relationship between the use of psychedelic drugs, non-conformist thinking, and the general approach to knowledge acquisition, known as epistemic beliefs. Understanding epistemic beliefs is crucial, as they shape the way individuals evaluate and interpret information, including alternative facts and conspiracy theories.

This study was designed to address this paucity of research by examining the association between the use of classical psychedelics and the tendency to subscribe to alternative facts. We postulated that recent use of classical psychedelics would correlate with an increased inclination towards the belief in alternative facts, the conviction that facts are largely politically driven, and a tendency to rely on intuition rather than empirical evidence when forming beliefs. Alcohol was chosen as a reference substance given its well-documented pro-social and trust-enhancing effects. Consequently, an inverse association was anticipated in this context.

The specific rationale for examining the recency of psychedelic use in relation to non-conformist beliefs was based on existing literature on the “afterglow” phenomena post-psychedelic experience, characterized by heightened emotional reactivity, divergent thinking and it’s time-varying nature. We opted to focus on recency rather than the intensity or subjective experiences of the psychedelic event for several reasons.

First, the afterglow effect's temporal dynamics provide a more concrete and measurable variable, allowing for more robust statistical analysis. Second, recency of use can be considered a more objective and quantifiable parameter compared to the inherently subjective nature of intensity, which may vary significantly among individuals. Lastly, by focusing on recency, we aimed to control for potential confounding variables that might be associated with the subjective experience's multifaceted nature.

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