The use of mescaline, a psychedelic substance derived from the peyote cactus, appears to be associated with improvements in depression and anxiety, according to a new preliminary study published in the journal ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science. The research provides evidence that the clinically beneficial effects of mescaline are related to specific facets of the psychedelic experience.
A growing body of research suggests that use of classic psychedelics can have lasting positive effects. But, despite its centuries-long ceremonial use among Native American tribes, mescaline has received relatively little attention in comparison to other substances, such as psilocybin.
“Contemporary research involving classic psychedelics has shown promise in treating a variety of mental health conditions including major depression, existential distress associated with a serious illness, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction,” the researchers said. “The psychiatric benefits of certain classic psychedelics (e.g., psilocybin) have been well studied in recent years, paving the way for more research into other classic psychedelics.”
For the study, the researchers used internet advertisements to recruit 452 adults from around the world who had used mescaline at least once. The participants completed a wide-ranging questionnaire about their experience with mescaline. They also completed a mental health assessment, in which they reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, alcohol misuse or alcohol use disorder, and drug misuse or drug use disorder.
About one-third of the entire sample reported that their mescaline experience was among the top five most personally meaningful or spiritually significant experiences of their lives. Many participants also reported improvements in psychiatric conditions.
Nearly half the participants indicated that they had depression or anxiety at the time of their mescaline use. Among those who had depression, 86% reported improvements in their condition after using the drug. Similarly, among those who had anxiety, 80% reported improvements in their condition after using mescaline. The vast majority of participants did not take mescaline with the intention of changing these conditions.
The researchers found that psychiatric improvement was associated with particular features of the psychedelic experience. Specifically, participants who reported improvement tended to experience more mystical-type phenomenon, greater psychological insight, and more ego dissolution effects while under the influence of mescaline.
The results are line with with previous research, which has found evidence that experiencing more psychological insights from psychedelic drugs is associated with increased psychological flexibility. Increases in psychological flexibility, in turn, appear to be linked to decreases in depression and anxiety. Other research indicates that psychedelic drugs can improve mental health by making individuals more accepting of distressing experiences.
But the research on the long-term psychological effects of mescaline use is still in a very early stage and the study has some important caveats to consider.
“It is important to note the methodological limitations of our study and to urge caution when interpreting these findings,” the researchers said. “As this was a cross-sectional study, we cannot infer causality regarding the impact of mescaline on psychiatric conditions. Results are also limited by possible self-selection by individuals favorably disposed toward psychedelic experiences.”
“Nevertheless, the results from our study indicate that when administered in a naturalistic setting, mescaline may facilitate unintended improvements in self-reported depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance use disorders,” they added.
The study, “Naturalistic Use of Mescaline Is Associated with Self-Reported Psychiatric Improvements and Enduring Positive Life Changes“, was authored by Gabrielle Agin-Liebes, Trevor F. Haas, Rafael Lancelotta, Malin V. Uthaug, Johannes G. Ramaekers, and Alan K. Davis.