Traumatic injury behind majority of LSD, psilocybin-related deaths

Wednesday, 22 May, 2024

Traumatic injury behind majority of LSD, psilocybin-related deaths

A new study by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) highlights that while rare, deaths related to LSD or psilocybin, commonly known as magic mushrooms, were primarily due to traumatic injury, whether through accident or self-harm.

The study, based on autopsy information retrieved from the National Coronial Information System, outlines the profiles and circumstances of 43 deaths related to these drugs in Australia between 2000 and 2023.

Thirty-three of the cases had used LSD prior to death and 10 used magic mushrooms, with an average age in the mid-twenties. Almost all were men. Mental health problems were reported in a quarter of cases.

No such thing as a risk-free drug

“It’s important to note that these deaths occurred in non-clinical settings in the community, where people can take uncontrolled doses in potentially unsafe environments,” said Professor Shane Darke, lead author of the study published in Addiction.

“Very little research exists on death due to psychedelic drugs, so our research aimed to fill this gap by providing a comprehensive snapshot,” Darke said.

While the number of deaths is small in comparison to total exposure to these drugs, they do occur, reminded Darke.

“There is a perception among many people that psychedelic drugs are ‘safe’ options,” Darke said.

“Our study shows, however, that there is no such thing as a risk-free drug and people need to understand the risk and harms posed.”

Intense agitation

The majority of deaths documented were due to traumatic accidents or self-injury. Risk of injury increases if the person experiences disorientation or severe agitation from taking LSD or psilocybin.

“The most common clinical presentation preceding death was intense agitation,” Darke said.

Most cases of self-harm were noted by coroners as intentional, but some were concluded to be unintentional.

“Coroners’ notes documented misadventure and out-of-character behaviour prior to death, which shows that some people have bad reactions with tragic consequences,” Darke said.

Cases of toxicity

While rare, there were cases of death from apparent acute toxic reactions to LSD, including cardiac events that occurred soon after consumption.

While this has been seen overseas, this is the first time it has been documented in Australia, according to the researchers.

There were four cases of sudden unexpected death shortly after psilocybin ingestion, with no other cause of death identified.

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