Psychedelic studies have reported positive results for depression and anxiety related to cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, treatment-resistant depression, and tobacco and alcohol dependence. Although there are no active psychedelic research studies going on in India, there is growing interest about these substances as evident by numerous social media groups and pages with a lot of active members. Studies regarding psychedelic use in the Indian population are hard to find. To look into the current pattern of use of psychedelics in India and user subjective experiences, an online survey was carried out over a 6-month period from August 15, 2020 using Google forms.
Information about the study to participants was given via social media platforms. Participants were encouraged to share the questionnaire among their colleagues and friends. Online questionnaire contained questions containing sociodemographic details such as age, sex, education, occupation, religion, and so on. Questions regarding psychedelic use including the type of substances used, frequency, reasons for use, and so on were included in the second part. To assess participants’ subjective experiences and their spiritual significance, Mystical experience questionnaire (MEQ) 30 item version was used. The Challenging experience questionnaire (CEQ) was used to assess difficulty during psychedelic experience. DSM IV TR criteria were used to rule out hallucinogen persisting perception disorder.
Out of the 68 responses received from the survey, 49 were included in the study. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) (93.9%, n = 46) remained popular among the users, followed by Psilocybin mushrooms (75.5%, n = 37) and N, N-dimethyltryptamine (36.7%, n = 18). The majority (75.5%, n = 34) has stated LSD as the first psychedelic they have used. For the rest, the first psychedelic was Psilocybin mushrooms. The mean age at the first psychedelic use was 22.42 ± (2.99). 75.5% (n = 37) have looked up about the substance before using it. Main reasons for trying psychedelics for the first few times were personality development 38.7% (n = 19), just out of curiosity 36.7% (n = 18), and meditation/spiritual reasons 30.6% (n = 15). The majority of the participants considered their first psychedelic experience positively. On our question about their preference of taking psychedelics, 38.8% preferred to take as a group in nature. This was followed by Alone in nature (26.5%), Parties (14.3%), Alone - indoors (12.2%), and Group – Indoors (8.16%).
The mean total score of MEQ was 117 (out of 150), which implied that the majority had an experience which can only be described as mystical. Out of the 30 items scored out of 5, Experience of amazement (4.43), Sense that the experience cannot be described adequately in words (4.41), Sense of awe or awesomeness (4.35), Feelings of joy (4.31), Experience of ecstasy (4.14), Experience of oneness or unity with the objects and/or persons perceived in your surroundings (4.10), and Certainty of encounter with ultimate reality (4.10) got more positive responses. Acute adverse reactions otherwise known as “bad trips” are common when the substances are used in an uncontrolled setting. To know more about these experiences, participants were asked to take CEQ. On individual items, Feeling my heart beating (2.85), I felt like crying (2.46), Feeling of isolation from people and things (2.32), I had the profound experience of my own death (2.29), and I had the feeling something horrible would happen (2.21) got higher average scores compared to others. These findings were in line with previous psychedelic studies. Figure 1 and 2 describes percentage of maximum possible score of mean score and subscales of MEQ30 and CEQ respectively. The occurrence of hallucinogenic post-perception disorder in our sample was 4.08% (n = 2). Although very few satisfied the criteria, many of the participants experienced perceptual abnormalities following the use of psychedelics.
While conducting the survey, we felt that the established structured questionnaires used for analyzing subjective experience might not be the best that we can use in an Indian setting. Because it is a less researched area, especially in India, this warrants more well-structured qualitative studies among psychedelic users to look into their subjective experience and development of better structural tools considering the socio-cultural differences.
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