Psychedelics and the Aging Population
This is where psychedelics come in. With their profile growing as promising treatments for everything from depression, to chronic pain, to addiction, without the negative connotations associated with traditional pharmaceuticals, they could be just the thing to support an aging population.
According to the National Council of Aging (NCOA) some 95% of people over 60 have at least one chronic illness or condition, and, of those, 80% have two or more chronic conditions. Additionally, 75% of people over the age of 60 suffer from cardiovascular disease. Here, the worry about the use of psychedelics by an aging population rears its head. While psychedelics are known to be the safest recreational drug (leaving alcohol in the dust), and so low is their toxicity that overdose is practically impossible, there are some side-effects of psychedelics such as LSD or psilocybin that could be cause for concern in an older user.
How Psychedelics Can Affect Blood Pressure
The specific side-effects of concern are an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This effect is negligible for most people. However, it is potentially a cause for concern if you are one of the number of people with cardiovascular issues, such as many over the age of 60. So, there does exist a small question mark in regards to whether psychedelics are a safe and suitable treatment for older adults. If they are to be used to treat various complaints in those of a higher age bracket, this must first be addressed.
A New Study Assesses the Risks
A new study, published at the beginning of 2023, aims to do just that. While there has been much promising research into the benefits of psychedelics, such as psilocybin, in the general population, less have been focused on the aging population. The study, titled; The Safety and Efficacy of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies for Older Adults: Knowns and Unknowns, was published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. It reviewed clinical trials over the past 30 years that involved psilocybin and MDMA. The authors found no indication of severely adverse reactions in the collection of trials, which included older adults. They did find that some patients experienced an increase in blood pressure, sometimes to a relatively high level, but there were no reported strokes or heart attacks in any of the reviewed trials.
One of the authors of the review, Brian Anderson, assistant clinical professor at the University of California, said;
“We have certainly seen a few participants become rather hypertensive when their blood pressure really goes up during the acute effects of the medicine, but that has not been associated with any sort of neurologic damage. No detectable strokes have happened in these participants.”
How Psychedelics Could Benefit Older People
Although this was a relatively small study. The results are encouraging — and important. For many older people, the benefits of using psychedelics are likely to far outweigh the minimal perceived risk. More study is, of course, needed to truly assess the dangers — if any. It is likely that this will be explored further in tandem with studies that investigate the effectiveness of psychedelics in treating a wide range of conditions that affect older people.
- Chronic pain
- Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related conditions
- Distress or depression related to aging
- End-of-life anxiety due to illness
Additionally, on top of these, the use of psychedelics can improve overall quality of life and attitude towards aging. Dr. C. Bree Johsnton, another author of the paper explained:
“There’s so much ageism in our culture… And old age can be a time of great happiness and growth and meaning…[but] old age is [also] a time of transition that many people struggle with.”
Enhancing Every Stage of Life
The personal growth and self-exploration that psilocybin and other psychedelics can provide could truly enhance the aging experience, a time when people begin to ponder and reassess their place, path, and meaning on Earth. Psychedelic assisted therapy could help older people with this transitory time of life, and encourage them to make the very best of it. Microdosing could help the world seem fresh and vibrant again, stimulating creativity and joy.
This is why further research into this area is essential. With all the good psychedelics can do, it is key they are as accessible to as many people as possible to use as a tool for healing, exploring, and learning. And, as the benefits become more widely known, more and more people will want to discover them for themselves, at all ages.