Professor Eric S. Jackson, the lead author of the study, explained the thinking behind the research; “Given the positive effects of psychedelics on conditions like anxiety and PTSD, which share symptoms with stuttering, we think that investigating the potential impact of psychedelics on stuttering can be a fruitful area of research,” 

The study, published last month in the Journal of Fluency Disorders, is the “first study to explore self-reported experiences of self-identified stutterers using classic psychedelics.”

The Search for an Effective Treatment for Stuttering

In the study’s abstract, Professor Jackson and his team wrote;

“Stuttering poses challenges to social, occupational, and educational aspects of life. Traditional behavioral therapies can be helpful but effects are often limited. Pharmaceutical treatments have been explored, but there are no FDA-approved treatments for stuttering. Interest has grown in the potential use of classic psychedelics, including psilocybin and LSD, which have shown effectiveness in treating disorders with similar symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depression, PTSD). The potential effects of psychedelics on stuttering have not been explored,” 

They added that stuttering is “typically characterized by its symptoms—intermittent disruptions in speech,” 

A magic mushroom grow kit in full bloom (via Wholecelium)

Stuttering Can Be A Debilitating Condition

Stuttering can be debilitating to the confidence of the sufferer, and is difficult to treat in the long-term. The researchers wrote;

“Stuttering, or the possibility of stuttering, also triggers anxiety, fear, and shame which significantly impact quality of life. Negative reactions of listeners, such as teasing or mocking exacerbate these feelings, complicating the individual’s ability to cope with and move forward in speech when stuttering occurs. 

The speech of stutterers is amenable to change in therapy, but such change is often not durable with relics of tension, struggle, and avoidance re-emerging,” 

“To achieve lasting changes, stutterers may benefit from redefining their relationship with stuttering, exploring concepts like openness and self-acceptance. There is a pressing need for innovative approaches that support overall well-being, reduce negative thoughts and emotions, and enhance ease of communication for stutterers.”

Photo by Khadim Fall on Unsplash

Checking in with the ‘Citizen Scientists’ of Reddit

Interestingly, the researchers tapped into that well of wisdom we so often turn to — the message boards of Reddit. For the study they  “conducted a preliminary investigation of self-identified stutterers who report their experiences taking classic psychedelics on the online messaging forum, Reddit,” 

They then went on to perform a qualitative analysis on “114 publicly available posts, extracting meaningful units and assigning descriptor codes inductively.”

The researchers stated that their trawl of Reddit produced 167 posts. However, 14 were ruled out for not being firsthand accounts (i.e. describing other people’s experiences) and a further 39 were excluded because they discussed MDMA or ketamine rather than classic psychedelics.  

“The final sample comprised 114 posts from 104 Reddit distinct users, including multiple contributions from some users. Due to 12 users deleting their usernames, the exact number of unique users was estimated to be at least 92. Results reflective of individual percentages were based on 104,” they explained.

What the Researchers Found

Outlining their subsequent process they wrote;

“We then deductively organized responses into an established framework of psychedelics which includes behavioral, emotional, cognitive, belief based, and social effects. These effects were subsequently grouped under organizing themes (positive, negative, neutral),” 

From this analysis the researchers found that;

  • 74% of users ”reported positive overall short-term effects particularly related to behavioral and emotional change (e.g., reduced stuttering and anxiety)”
  • 11.6% reported “neutral” overall experiences
  • 4.8% reported mixed “positive and negative” experiences
  • 9.6% reported “negative” experiences  
a magic truffle containing psilocybin (via Wholecelium)

More Than Half Reported “Reduced Stuttering”

The researchers wrote; 

“The results support the possibility that psychedelics may impact stuttering, but caution must be applied in their interpretation given the entirely uncontrolled research setting and potential adverse health effects of psychedelics as reported elsewhere. While these results do not encourage the use of psychedelics by stutterers, they suggest that future work could examine the impact of psychedelics on stuttering under supervised and in clinically controlled settings,” 

The effect that the researchers found to be most reported was “reduced stuttering, with half of users reporting a reduction in their stuttering.” The researchers added that “users also reported reduced effort, ‘improved’ speech, and increased speech control while on psychedelics or shortly thereafter,”

To conclude, the researchers wrote;

“People who stutter are in need of more effective treatments to manage intermittent disruptions in speech communication and also provide relief from distress that accompanies their social experiences, such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation,” 

“To date, there are no FDA-approved pharmacotherapies to treat stuttering. Our study suggests that some users on the internet forum Reddit who self-identify as people who stutter have reported beneficial short-term outcomes.”

Paul Stamets, Stuttering, & Shrooms

This study is not the first time that psilocybin has been posited as a potential treatment for stuttering. Those who have followed the career of mycology messiah Paul Stamets may have heard the story of how magic mushrooms cured his stutter. It’s a tale he’s told many times, but perhaps most openly on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast (episode #1035 if you wanna check it out…)

Paul Stamets (via Creative Commons)

Speaking with the company BioHabitats, Stamets described the debilitating stutter he had since childhood. One day however, high on magic mushrooms, he climbed a tree during a thunderstorm. Stuck up his tree, and paralyzed by fear (as well as the fact he was tripping quite hard) he was inspired;

“I thought about what the biggest problem was in my life, and by far, it was my inability to communicate because of my stuttering. So I started repeating the mantra ‘Stop stuttering now. Stop stuttering now.’ in between lightning strikes. I must have said it hundreds of times. Fortunately, I did not get struck by lightning.”

“Later, I climbed out of the tree, walked home, and went to bed. The next morning, I encountered a young lady I had been attracted to. She was kind, but most women are more attracted to self-assured, confident young men. I saw her coming, and instead of staring at the ground as she approached me, I looked straightforward. My eyes met hers and she said, ‘Good morning, Paul.’ I said ‘Good morning’ back, without stuttering. I had stopped stuttering in one day.”

How Psychedelics Can Be Used as a Tool for Healing

While Stamets’ story is certainly intriguing, there are few on the actual /Stutter forum of Reddit that report such an instantaneously transformative experience re: psychedelics and stuttering. However, many agree that there is certainly something there;

u/Awtts wrote

“This is my personal view.

Psychedelics tend to show you what you ‘need’ to see in order to fix or heal certain things in your life. They don’t necessarily cure of [sic] fix anything for you. Their power lies within its ability to show you things that make you look at things differently, which can be eye opening and life-changing. With Psilocybin (Mushrooms) you’re basically in the passenger seat. “Mother nature” will show you what you need to be shown in order to overcome certain things that are withholding you from living a happy life.

This COULD be that it’ll show you WHY you stutter, and the steps needed to overcome it. But it could also mean it’ll show you that you can be perfectly happy WITH having a stutter – showing you how you 100% accept yourself for how you am [sic] right now.

Sometimes certain life-changing experiences on psychedelics can be immediate, but some need a lot of work post-journey.

It seems that from the personal sphere, to the scientific realm, people agree that psychedelics are a tool which you can use to begin the healing process. Stuttering certainly seems like a condition for which psychedelics could be a viable treatment option — pending more research. As Professor Jackson says, these results “…suggest that future work could examine the impact of psychedelics on stuttering in randomized controlled clinical trials,” 

So watch this space!