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The adolescent and young adult use and experience of psychedelics

Project initiator
David Sjöström

The research project aims to investigate adolescent and young adult use and experience of psychedelics in two different and natural settings through survey, longitudinal observation, and in-depth interview, in Sweden (where use is discouraged) and Brazil (in a population where use is encouraged). The project is led by Emma Claesdotter Knutsson, Associate Professor at the unit for Clinical Research on Externalizing and Developmental psychopathology at Lund University, and David Sjöström, child and adolescent psychiatrist resident and PhD student at Lund University. 

Classic psychedelics have in the last decade shown promising results in the treatment of mental health disorders in adults. More research is needed to understand how psychedelics influence psychological parameters in adolescents and young adults still in their psychological and physiological maturation. This study aims to broaden the understanding of adolescent and young adult psychedelic use, experience, and effects by comparing results from a Swedish population where psychedelic use is illegal with a Brazilian population where ayahuasca is used in a ceremonial setting.

The research team will invite Swedish adolescents and young adults aged 15-25 with at least one experience of classic psychedelic compounds within the last year, along with members of the Uniao de Vegetal church in Brazil aged 15 and up, to answer an online questionnaire relating to set and setting, subjective effects, self-reported psychological symptoms, and daily function. Some participants will also be invited to a semi-structured in-depth interview.

This will be the first study of its kind on the set and setting of psychedelic use in the adolescent and young adult population of Sweden. The results of the research project will increase the understanding in an area of the field that is currently lacking data. The study will collect information on potential benefits and risks regarding use, experience, and lasting effects of psychedelics in a young adult population.

This project does not seek to encourage anyone to use psychedelics, unlawfully or without professional supervision, but to investigate already occurring behaviors. To include adolescents in clinical and experimental psychedelic research implies specific ethical challenges. However, the need for more effective treatments in adolescent psychiatry is increasing. Carefully exploring how adolescents experience psychedelic benefits and risks in natural settings can be a first step of inquiry and could inform future controlled trials. 

The project is approved by the Swedish Ethical Review Authority and is pending approval from the Brazilian counterpart.