Psychedelics like LSD (acid), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), and MDMA (ecstasy) have grown a reputation for being worthless and dangerous ever since they were outlawed in the 1970s. But as scientific research on these substances expands, we’ve learned that psychedelic drug use can actually benefit the brain in numerous ways, from treating mental health disorders and aiding mental well-being to improving cognitive structure and function. Not only are psychedelics beginning to show promise as effective mental health medicines, but in a new study conducted by UBC Okanagan, researchers have begun to see that these substances may also reduce violent tendencies, particularly in terms of domestic violence.

Domestic violence is a serious issue worldwide. Of the 35 percent of women in the world who have experienced assault, domestic violence occurred in the majority of those cases. In the United States alone, one in every three women has been assaulted by an intimate partner. In search of new ways to stop domestic violence, UBC’s researchers followed ex-convicts with a history of substance use to see if psychedelic drugs affected their tendency to commit violence.

"As existing treatments for intimate partner violence are insufficient, we need to take new perspectives such as this seriously," said associate professor Zach Walsh, the co-director for UBC Okanagan's Center for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law, in a press release. "Intimate partner violence is a major public health problem and existing treatments to reduce reoffending are insufficient."

The researchers monitored the drug habits and criminal records of 302 former prisoners for six years after they were released. They found that out of the ex-convicts who didn’t use a psychedelic drug during those years, 42 percent were arrested again on a charge of domestic battery. In contrast, only 27 percent of the participants who used a psychedelic drug faced the same charges.

"Although we're attempting to better understand how or why these substances may be beneficial, one explanation is that they can transform people's lives by providing profoundly meaningful spiritual experiences that highlight what matters most," said co-author and University of Alabama associate professor Peter Hendricks, who predicts that psilocybin and other psychedelics could revolutionize the mental health field. "Often, people are struck by the realization that behaving with compassion and kindness toward others is high on the list of what matters."

Walsh added: "The experiences of unity, positivity, and transcendence that characterize the psychedelic experience may be particularly beneficial to groups that are frequently marginalized and isolated, such as the incarcerated men who participated in this study.”

Past research has suggested that the medicinal effects of psychedelics come from the long-lasting changes they have on personality, as well as their ability to create more flexible patterns of thinking.

"While not a clinical trial, this study, in stark contrast to prevailing attitudes that view these drugs as harmful, speaks to the public health potential of psychedelic medicine," Walsh said. "With proper dosage... and setting we might see even more profound effects. This definitely warrants further research."

Source: Walsh Z, Hendricks PS, et al. Hallucinogen use and intimate partner violence: Prospective evidence consistent with protective effects among men with histories of problematic substance use. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2016