On July 12, the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics, or BCSP, held a briefing to discuss the findings of the inaugural UC Berkeley Psychedelics Survey on public opinion of psychedelics.
Led by best-selling author and BCSP co-founder Michael Pollan, UC Berkeley Psychedelics Survey project lead Taylor West and BCSP executive director Imran Khan, the briefing also discussed perspectives on potential psychedelic policy reforms.
A new national benchmark poll tracking public perceptions, the UC Berkeley Psychedelics Survey was conducted across six days in early June and randomly selected registered voters in the United States. However, the briefing did highlight underrepresented communities within the survey sample, including Native American, Black, female, conservative, Southern and elderly voters.
Nearly half of respondents heard “a great deal” about psychedelics recently — the most common reason was for their use in mental health treatment.
BCSP’s definition of psychedelics included ayahuasca, DMT, LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, ibogaine, ketamine and MDMA.
Notably, LSD and psilocybin were the two most common psychedelics the majority of voters believed to be considered a psychedelic, while only 20% considered ketamine to be similarly classified. Few respondents had even heard of DMT, ayahuasca or ibogaine.
To understand levels of use while avoiding issues surrounding legality of the drugs, BCSP questioned voters’ “first-degree connection” to psychedelic use by asking whether the respondents or someone close to them had used psychedelics. 52% of respondents indicated they had a “first-degree connection,” roughly half of which had taken place within the past five years and for mainly recreational purposes.
The survey also questioned public opinion on psychedelic policy reform. Proposals included research expansion, regulated therapeutic use, medicalization, decriminalization and religious or spiritual use.
Researchers found that more than three-quarters of voters supports research expansion, which BCSP defined as “making it easier for scientists and researchers to study psychedelics and understand their effects.” Meanwhile, 61% supported a regulated legal framework for therapeutic uses, while the other three proposals were nearly split between opposition and support.
West remarked on the notability of receiving more than 60% of voter support for psychedelics in therapeutic purposes, considering the short history of advocacy surrounding psychedelics. West also drew on historical polling on legalization of gay marriage and marijuana use to demonstrate how both public policy issues took 30 to 40 years to reach 60% of voter support.
Lastly, BCSP discussed which sources of information voters trusted for psychedelic use — at least 60% of voters trusted nurses and scientific researchers.
Voters who reported awareness “and/or a first-degree connection” was the group that tended to vote in support of policy change and demonstrated greater trust of nearly all sources of information. This group also tended to be white, liberal, male, highly-educated and a resident of a western U.S. state.
The brief concluded with the acknowledgement that although the majority of American voters support psychedelic use in some regulated capacity, many still consider these drugs “dangerous.”
Regardless, Pollan is optimistic that the percentage who support psychedelic use will only continue to increase as state-wide and national policy changes like those in Oregon and Colorado increase awareness and use of psychedelics, especially for therapeutic use.
“The advocates for decriminalization and therapeutic use have not had a lot of opposition,” Pollan said during the meeting. “If this is something that can help people, especially (terminally ill) people (or) people with serious forms of mental illness, people are … inclined to let them have access to it.”