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Older Adults Who Have Used Psychedelics Found to Have Enhanced Cognitive Functioning
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Older Adults Who Have Used Psychedelics Found to Have Enhanced Cognitive Functioning

Seraiah Alexander
Seraiah Alexander
June 25, 2024
2 min

As science continues to seek more ways to support healthy aging, a new study has pointed to an unlikely candidate: psychedelics. A recent study published in Gerontology & Geriatric Medicine has found a positive link between psychedelic use and enhanced cognitive health in older adults. 

The study analyzed data from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) project, a national long-term study that examines the health and well-being of Americans. Researchers assessed over 1,300 participants aged 50 and older through surveys, cognitive tests, and a depression scale to measure mental health outcomes. Participants who reported psychedelic use were found to have higher scores on tasks that measure executive function, which includes skills like planning, decision-making, and flexible thinking. Furthermore, those who have had psychedelics in the past reported fewer depressive symptoms compared to those who did not (1).

Cognitive decline is a severe health concern for aging adults. Cognitive abilities can start to slow down as early as the mid 40s to 50s, and the risk of severe cognitive decline significantly increases after age 65.

Although the researchers controlled for various factors such as age, gender, education, and overall health to ensure that the observed benefits were specifically associated with psychedelic use, they acknowledge the limitations of the observational design of the study, which cannot completely establish causation. 

Nonetheless, these findings correlate with previous research that has demonstrated the potential mental health benefits of psychedelics. For instance, classic psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD have been shown to promote neuroplasticity, allowing the brain to form new neural connections, which could help slow down cognitive decline. Additionally, research indicates that psilocybin could have the potential to transform the brain’s immune cells from a pro-inflammatory state to a protective one. This shift could help mitigate the inflammatory responses and pathological brain changes that are associated with the development of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. These anti-inflammatory effects may also help alleviate depressive symptoms, which are often exacerbated by chronic inflammation in the brain. 

Recognizing the promising potential of these findings, the researchers concluded the study, urging for a supportive regulatory environment that would allow scientists to thoroughly investigate the potential cognitive and mental health benefits of psychedelics for aging populations:

“The federal and state governments should de-criminalize psychedelics so that research can be conducted in a manner that ensures reliability and validity. More longitudinal research, including clinical and community samples, is essential utilizing psychedelics as an alternative therapy examining benefits in late-life cognitive functions.”


References

  1. Fearn, Kaeleigh, and Kallol Kumar Bhattacharyya. 2024. “Is Use of Psychedelic Drugs a Risk or Protective Factor for Late-Life Cognitive Decline?” Gerontology & Geriatric Medicine 10 (January). https://doi.org/10.1177/23337214241250108.

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science
Seraiah Alexander

Seraiah Alexander

Content Editor

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