Could Psychedelics Prevent Crime?

Psychedelic drugs may get people into legal trouble in the first place, but what if they could actually help avoid recidivism? There may be more of a link than you'd think: Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine studied 25,622 people under community corrections supervision from 2002-2007, and found that those diagnosed with hallucinogenic use disorder showed less supervisions failure than those with other disorders, such as alcohol, marijuana, or coke use. Besides hallucinogenic use resulting in greater adherence to supervision conditions, "our results suggest that hallucinogens may promote alcohol and other drug abstinence and prosocial behavior in a population with high rates of recidivism," the study's authors wrote.

The research runs "counter to the legal classification as well as popular perception of hallucinogens as categorically harmful substances with no therapeutic potential," wrote the authors in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Scientific inquiry into the potential of psychedelic drugs to benefit society or correct criminals isn't exactly a new idea. Way before hippies started tripping in daisy fields, researchers where looking at the drugs in the '50s, combining psychedelics with psychotherapy (also trendy at the time) to treat addictions. In 1970, however, the Controlled Substances Operation effectively shut down those investigative operations. Since then, it's been tricky to legally investigate the matter further.

This experiment is similar to the famous Concord Prison Experiment, which took place in the early 1960s. Harvard researchers wanted to find out whether the administration of a psychedelic drug, psilocybin, would improve recidivism in inmates. Results were staggering: projections were that 64 percent of the 32 inmates studied would be back in prison after six months, but it turned out that only 25 percent were.

But a follow-up study done later on called those findings into question, figuring only a slight improvement in recidivism instead of the reported dramatic one. A reflection written years on by one of the graduate students involved stated that he had no real idea about where the numbers in the original study came from and questioned whether the results had been as positive as he remembered.

After the controversy, the question remained of whether hallucinogenics would help recidivism remained — until now, that is. Obviously more research is needed, but short of finding people who already use the drugs illegally and agree to participate in experiments — which is tricky enough — it might be awhile before we see any more results. Speaking of seeing things...

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