Naturalistic Psychedelic Use Shown to Increase Emotional Well-being

Charles Raison, MD, Rakesh Jain, MD, MPH, Andrew Penn, MS, PMHNP, Saundra Jain, MS, PsyD, LPC,
Charles Raison, MD, Rakesh Jain, MD, MPH, Andrew Penn, MS, PMHNP, and Saundra Jain, MS, PsyD, LPC

Psychedelic use has been shown to significantly improve depressive and anxiety symptoms while also increasing overall emotional well-being, according to a study recently published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

The study, which also examined previous psychedelic experiences on the participants, was co-authored by Sana Symposium and Psych Congress Steering Committee Members Charles Raison, MD, Rakesh Jain, MD, MPH, Andrew Penn, MS, PMHNP, Saundra Jain, MS, PsyD, LPC, and colleague.

Raison et al state, “no study to our knowledge has examined associations between number of lifetime psychedelic experiences and changes in depressive and anxious symptoms.”

The “Psychedelics and Wellness Study (PAWS)” measured psychedelic experiences and impacts on depressive and anxiety symptoms conducted through a cross-sectional, online survey by 2510 adults over the age of 18 with at least 1 prior psychedelic experience.

Study participants were asked to take part in several self-report questionnaires, including the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) to evaluate depression; the 7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7) to evaluate anxiety; and the 5-item HERO Wellness Scale to evaluate for overall mental well-being.

Two additional questionnaires were developed specifically for the PAWS study, including: the 26-item Psychedelic Change Questionnaire (26 PCQ) to understand the different emotional states, broken into 3 sets of Factors, which occur during psychedelic use; and the 8-item Negative Consequences Inventory (NCI 8) to assess negative outcomes related to psychedelic use.

Raison et al discovered the lifetime usage of psychedelics averaged 38.6 (range, 1-500), with most participants favoring psilocybin (51.6%) or LSD (30.1%) as their preferred psychedelic. Only 90 participants (3.6%) self-reported as single use only.

Overall, psychedelic usage was reported to significantly reduce depressive and anxiety-related symptoms while also increasing emotional well-being. Self-report questionnaire results showed pre- and post-exposure effect size, expressed as Cohen d, changed significantly with the PHQ-9, GAD-7, and HERO (d = 1.07; d = 1.10; d = 1.07, respectively).

The scales designed specifically for the PAWS study showed that 91.7% of participants reported improvements in Factor 1 (mindfulness, social connectedness, inner peace, love, etc); 66.2% felt improvements in Factor 2 (sleeping/eating habits, irritability, intimacy, etc); and 77.8% reported improvements in Factor 3 (fear of death, philanthropy, and world peace).

Of participants, 330 (13.0%) reported at least 1 negative outcome, either associated with behavioral disturbance (eg, suicidal ideation, criminal behavior) or substance misuse, related to the NCI-8 scale.

Researchers conclude that “[r]esults from the current study add to a growing database indicating that psychedelic use—even outside the context of clinical trials—may provide a wide range of mental health benefits, while also posing some risk for harm in a minority of individuals.”

—Heather Flint, Senior Digital Managing Editor, Psych Congress Network


Raison CL, Jain R, Penn AD, Cole SP, Jain S. Effects of naturalistic psychedelic use on depression, anxiety, and well-being: associations with patterns of use, reported harms, and transformative mental states. Front Psychiatry. Published online March 15, 2022. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2022.831092