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Treating Criminal Behavior — With Psychedelics?

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While a new body of research has focused on the use of psychedelic drugs such as magic mushrooms, LSD and mescaline (a substance derived from peyote cactus), to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and with obsessive compulsive disorder and eating disorders, according to University of Alabama Assoc. Prof. Peter Hendricks, they may also decrease the likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior.


Working with UBC Okanagan’s Associate Professor of Psychology Zach Walsh, Hendricks used data obtained by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to explore the connection between the use of classic psychedelic substances and criminal behavior among more than 480,000 American adult respondents from the past 13 years.


What Hendricks and Walsh found is quite compelling: respondents who have used psychedelic drugs had 27 per cent decreased odds of larceny or theft, and 22 per cent decreased odds of arrest for a violent crime in the past year. At the same time, lifetime use of other illicit substances was generally associated with increased odds of criminal behavior (Hendricks et al., 2017).


“These findings add to a growing body of research suggesting that use of classic psychedelics may have positive effects for reducing antisocial behavior” (Walsh, 2017).


While the development of innovative and effective interventions to prevent criminal behavior is an obvious priority, for Hendricks and Walsh, the use of psilocybin and related compounds could revolutionize the mental health field.


“Our findings suggest the protective effects of classic psychedelic use are attributable to genuine reductions in antisocial behavior rather than reflecting improved evasion of arrest. Simply put, the positive effects associated with classic psychedelic use appear to be reliable” (Hendricks, 2017).


Walsh points out that research on the benefits of psychedelic drugs started decades ago, primarily to treat mental illness, yet was stopped due to the reclassification of the drugs to controlled substances in the mid-1970s. With the resurgence of interest in psychedelic medicine, notes Walsh, more research is needed to figure out what factors underlie these effects. But, he says, “the experiences of unity, positivity and transcendence that characterize the psychedelic experience may have lasting benefits that translate into real-world consequences” (Walsh, 2017).


So what do you think? Are psychedelics a promising new treatment for criminal behavior? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Treating Criminal Behavior — With Psychedelics?

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2018). Treating Criminal Behavior — With Psychedelics?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 18, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Aug 2018
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