Hallucinogens benefit from somewhat greater acceptance than many other hard drugs, no doubt due in part to the fact that classic hallucinogens like LSD tend to be less harmful and are less likely to lead to physical dependence. However, they are hardly innocuous and, despite increased interest in therapeutic uses of classic hallucinogens, use is sometimes accompanied by “intense, unpredictable” cognitive impairment, flashbacks and psychological dependency. Finally, because they are illegal, the use of harmful mixing agents is of concern.
While some broad work has been done to explore the relationship between personality and hallucinogen use, surprisingly few have looked at traits like impulsivity, risk and sensation seeking, and emotion dysregulation—all hallmarks of studies regarding other hard drugs. To remedy this, a team of American researchers examined data from college students and adolescent inpatients. Their findings are published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Data was collected from roughly 10,250 college students and 200 adolescents, hospitalized due to risks of hurting themselves or others. Sensation seeking, impulsivity, emotion dysregulation and hallucinogen use were all measured using questionnaires. The results of the study highlight not only the importance of certain personality traits for predicting use of hallucinogens, but also distinct differences between the college and adolescent samples.
For college students, individuals higher in risk-seeking and experience-seeking were more likely to have tried hallucinogens, and to have tried them at a younger age. Risk-seeking was also a strong predictor of continued hallucinogen risk. Similarly to other drug use, negative urgency (the tendency to act rashly when distressed) and certain facets of emotion dysregulation (misinterpretation of emotional signals) also predicted use of hallucinogens.
The adolescent population was found to differ in regard to early adoption. Negative urgency was less important, while differing facets of emotion dysregulation seemed to better predict hallucinogen use, although, predictably, rates of use remained globally much lower in adolescents than college students.
Despite (or perhaps in light of) their greater general acceptance compared to other hard drugs, and given their increasing popularity among college students (use among adults increased by over 50% from 2015 to 2018), identifying and understanding predictors of hallucinogen use is of great clinical importance. As noted by the authors, “prevention and harm reduction interventions targeting personality are an effective way to help individuals imitate their specific risk factors.”
Thus, while the current study was limited by the cross-sectional nature of its data, and claims can’t reasonably be made about the causality of personality traits as relates to hallucinogen use, it contributes to a growing body of scientific evidence that will prove invaluable in mitigating the negative effects of hallucinogen use among those who choose to partake, as well as providing a framework for early intervention, especially among at-risk adolescents.
The study, “Who takes the trip? Personality and hallucinogen use among college students and adolescents,” was authored by Jamie E. Parnes, Shane D. Kentopp, Bradley T. Conner, and Rachel A. Rebecca.