More Women Than Men Self-Medicate With Psychedelics, Global Survey Suggests

Psilocybin mushrooms have been shown to help treat depression. Image credit: Comaniciu Dan/

Women are more likely than men to use LSD and magic mushrooms to treat psychiatric conditions and emotional distress, according to the results of the 2020 Global Drug Survey (GDS). A breakdown of the data reveals that psychedelics are most commonly used to alleviate depression, anxiety, and difficulties arising from relationship problems.

A number of recent studies have illustrated the potential of substances such as psilocybin – the active compound in magic mushrooms – and ayahuasca to treat a range of mental health issues, although such research is generally conducted under clinical supervision. In contrast, only 12.2 percent of GDS respondents claimed to have had their trip overseen by a therapist, with 9.9 percent saying a clinical psychologist had been present.

A total of 6,500 people completed the section of the survey concerning the use of psychedelics as a form of self-medication. Overall, LSD was the drug most commonly used to treat psychiatric disorders, followed by MDMA and psilocybin. In the case of LSD, 13.4 percent of women claimed to have used the drug for therapeutic purposes, compared to 11.7 percent of men.

Meanwhile, 14.9 percent of women said they had used magic mushrooms in the past year to treat some form of psychiatric or emotional condition, compared to 12.4 percent of men.

Of those who had taken psychedelics to relieve such conditions, 37.4 percent claimed to have been seeking relief from depression, with 18.4 percent suffering from anxiety and 12.5 percent experiencing stress as a result of relationship problems. Interestingly, 9.2 percent of women claimed to have used psychedelics in an attempt to treat trauma, compared to just 3.4 percent of men.

Worryingly, however, not everyone who engaged in psychedelic therapy was properly prepared or screened for the experience. In spite of this, only 3.7 percent said they required emergency medical attention as a consequence of their trip.

Outcomes were generally very positive, with 52 percent of respondents saying their condition improved significantly following their psychedelic trip, and a further 34 percent stating that they experienced moderate benefits. Just under 5 percent noticed no change, while 1 percent saw a slight deterioration in their condition and 0.1 percent suffered significant negative effects.

It’s worth noting that while self-treatment with psychedelics is now clearly a thing, most people who use psychoactive drugs do so for other reasons. According to the GDS, 15.2 percent of respondents used LSD as a form of psychiatric treatment, with 13.2 percent using magic mushrooms for this purpose. By contrast, 52.3 percent of LSD users did so for overall wellbeing, as did 55 percent of those who took magic mushrooms.


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