LSD use is rising among older folks – and it’s probably because people are looking for a way out. Even if it’s way out.

Scientific American analyzes the rise in LSD use and finds that it’s probably an attempt to lighten up – or at least get a new perspective – on a reality that’s gotten grim:

But from 2015 to 2018, the rate of “turning on and tuning in” with LSD, to paraphrase Leary, increased by more than 50 percent in the U.S.—a rise perhaps fueled by a need for chemical escapism. Those results were published in the July issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence. The authors of the study suspect that many users may be self-medicating with the illegal substance to find relief from depression, anxiety and general stress over the state of the world.

“LSD is used primarily to escape. And given that the world’s on fire, people might be using it as a therapeutic mechanism,” says Andrew Yockey, a doctoral candidate in health education at the University of Cincinnati and lead author of the paper. “Now that COVID’s hit, I’d guess that use has probably tripled.”

To arrive at their findings, Yockey and his colleagues turned to data collected from more than 168,000 American adults by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual, nationally representative questionnaire. They analyzed trends since 2015, partly because of the timing of the 2016 presidential election.

The researchers found that past-year LSD use increased by 56 percent over three years. The rise was especially pronounced in certain user groups, including people with college degrees (who saw a 70 percent increase) and people aged 26 to 34 (59 percent), 35 to 49 (223 percent) and 50 or older (45 percent). Younger people aged 18 to 25, on the other hand, decreased their use by 24 percent.

Yockey points out that the increase in LSD use does not have to be attributed to either microdosing or partying alone; both could be playing a role. Maybe “people are going to a Phish concert” and taking a full dose of LSD, “or they’re going to work” and microdosing, he says. And some may also be encouraged to use the drug after reading about studies exploring the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances. Most of this research centers around shorter-acting psilocybin, which is in current or planned clinical trials for treating depression, anxiety, anorexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, certain severe headaches, and addiction to smoking, cocaine and alcohol. Studies involving LSD are more limited, not because the substance lacks potential as a therapeutic agent, [Imperial College London neuropsychopharmacologist David] Nutt says, but because research on it is “virtually impossible” in most countries.

“LSD might be a panacea to anxiety and other psychological disorders,” Yockey says. “But as a Schedule I drug, there’s just so much red tape behind that that some researchers I’ve talked to who want to do LSD research say it’s not even worth it.”