Psychedelics & Autism: Stories Of Success
Autism is a social disorder that can sometimes be severely debilitating and distressing for both autistic people and their carers. Current approaches to managing autism are varied and often ineffective. As with many other mental health conditions, autism could potentially be managed with psychedelic therapy.
Unfortunately, there are no large-scale studies on the potential of psychedelics in the management of autism. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, a handful of studies experimented with giving psychedelics to autistic children; but all suffered from severe design flaws that make their results practically useless. Unsurprisingly, the reactions of children to doses of LSD were erratic and didn’t tell the researchers anything about the use of psychedelics to manage autism.
A 2013 survey performed by scientist Alicia Danforth on hundreds of autistic adults showed that those who had taken MDMA reported significant improvements in problems with social anxiety. Dozens of reports suggested that the psychedelic drug was directly responsible for improvements in wellbeing:
It feels nice to be able to change as a person; it was not something that I was expecting very much; for most of my life, I did not change.
I guess it broke down barriers, is how I would describe it. Yeah, it felt like up until that point, I just sort of always lived in a shell, like in a bubble. The way I isolated from people, and, yeah, I just sort of tore that down, I said, ‘There’s no need for there to be a barrier.’
I wanted to talk to people, but not in the way I usually do, i.e., lecture them. I listened to other people and cared deeply about what they were saying. I was actually enjoying making eye contact. Suddenly, there was no discomfort at all. Not only no discomfort, but suddenly, it was like I could see the person behind the eyes, and I wanted to sort of know who it was. And I was sort of just looking in there to look for a slight reaction, slight sort of changes just to see how he was reacting to me.
For the first time, it was very, like, like I finally got it. Like, you know how, I guess, autistic people, they don’t really know those unwritten social rules and all that? You know, the nuances in conversation and stuff like that? Like, I got it. Like, it was just like, bing!
I wanted to talk to people, but not in the way I usually do, i.e., lecture them. I listened to other people and cared deeply about what they were saying. I was actually enjoying making eye contact. Suddenly, there was no discomfort at all.
More success stories from those with autism
Other, less formal anecdotal reports of autistic adults taking psychedelics are often encouraging. This account from a Reddit user describes the benefits they found from a single LSD trip:
My senses don’t get overloaded anymore. I used to feel pain by touching rough surfaces. Now it feels a little uncomfortable, but not to the point where it physically hurts due to the stimulation […] Hearing several sounds at once doesn’t give me a headache. Social skills seem improved, as well as reduction of social anxiety. While I was on acid I noticed I had a much harder time expressing myself with language than I do normally. However, I didn’t experience any frustration when I had a hard time expressing myself, I felt pleasure instead. This effect has lasted a while, and I am enjoying it.
Similar accounts can be found on Reddit and other messaging boards:
Since tripping I’ve just become a happier person overall. My depression symptoms have gotten much better and social interaction isn’t so bad anymore. While I still often dislike talking to people, it’s really much better than it was before I started tripping.
Had symptoms, although more so hyper empathy than no empathy, reclusiveness, compulsive/obsessive behavior, social awkwardness, and language/speech issues. Psychedelics have helped me cure those almost entirely.
Several people also urge caution in using psychedelics for social disorders:
It is my experience and understanding that the psychedelic experience alone does not necessarily help ASD, however the fact that it provides a more ‘open mind’ allows the person with ASD to examine themselves in ways that they might not have previously done so.
Popular videos show the effects of LSD on autistic adults, most famously this one, involving an autistic man taking a very large dose of LSD (not recommended for first-time users). It’s unclear how the psychedelic experience might have helped his Aspergers, but it’s an interesting example of how psychedelics can affect you positively.
Research on psychedelics and autism
Thankfully, there is also some science to back up the use of psychedelics to treat social disorders like autism. There is convincing evidence from studies on MDMA that suggests this party drug could help people open up about their emotions and become more sociable – things that could be really useful to a therapist trying to get through to someone with a social disorder.
Backing up these initial findings, a more structured study funded by the psychedelic research charity MAPS has shown that MDMA-assisted therapy is more effective at reducing social anxiety than therapy alone. This suggests that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy could be utilized to manage social anxieties in severely autistic people.
On the pharmacological side of things, a 2006 study showed that autistic adults had impaired binding to serotonin receptors in certain areas of their brains. Impaired serotonin signaling has also been implicated in conditions like depression and OCD. Psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA dramatically increase serotonin levels in the brain, so this could potentially be a mechanism through which psychedelics could help autistic people.
Recent evidence suggests that the Default Mode Network (DMN), an area of the brain responsible for attention and focus, acts differently in autistic people. This links into findings that psychedelics can disrupt the DMN, allowing people to break out of cyclic, focused and often damaging forms of thinking. It’s possible that psychedelics could help autistic people break free from a system of mind that keeps their attention fixed on unhelpful things.
A novel treatment for an evolving disorder
Although autism is still not well understood, and the ideal methods for its management are still unclear; psychedelics could be a useful tool for therapists in helping autistic people to break free of normal patterns of cognition, and address social issues with less resistance.
Are you feeling drawn to work with plant medicines? Third Wave’s Psychedelic Directory offers a vetted guide to psychedelic therapists; maybe you can find the right one for you.
Enrique Centeno says
I’ve read a book about autism and another about drugs, both topics were really into my mind. You don’t have any idea how pleasent is this for me to know, thank you for the information and I hope this knowledge spreads
Holy shit, this is me. The only difference is I payed good money to a counselor find out why I freaked everyone out :). Currently 18, I started marijuana a bit earlier than you but since I used it as a party drug (rarely smoked by myself) it was never an introspective tool like MDMA or DMT, and considering I haven’t really stopped since, that hasn’t changed. I’ve only smoked changa once but it was sadly not even close to the amount I should have. Had I been reading articles like this before then, I would have zero’d 3 hits straight instead of 2 half-assed hits that ultimately did little but enhance my brightness/contrast and see a bunch of Illuminati symbols flying around the carpet lol (not joking, that was the only visual).
Point is, I’ve been obsessively reading articles, talking to my experienced brother, watching youtube videos about psychedelics and only now realized that my autism gives me social anxiety. Your condition is very similar to mine, so your insight into yourself makes me even more excited to try DMT. Thanks.
I was never officially diagnosed with aspersers, but I always knew there was something off about me growing up; I weirded other people out and I had no idea why, which in turn caused severe social anxiety. My inability to form social bonds depressed me to no end.
Then, at age 22 (I’m 23 now), I was introduced to mdma, marijuana, and psychedelics. To me, these haven’t been party drugs used for a good time – they’ve been absolutely critical tools which have allowed me to examine myself and others from a perspective I couldn’t have comprehended on my own. In the span of only about 7 months, I now feel like I’m understanding people at a healthy level, and my life has changed dramatically in every aspect (and the changes have been nothing but positive). I still have a ways to go, such as learning all the social skills I missed out on growing up, but as far as I’m concerned drugs have saved my life.
I should be clear however that it was not the drugs alone; I was fortunate enough to fall in with an amazing group of people who ensured I felt comfortable and included despite my anxiety. With the right people guiding you, I sincerely believe that psychedelics, mdma, and even marijuana (which helped me ponder about social dynamics from new perspectives whilst on my own) can be used to treat social disorders (hell, nothing else worked when I was growing up).
I’m 26yrs old now, diagnosed with Aspergus when I was 4.
Had my first psychedelic experience when I was 21 on Lsd.
As far as life went I wasnt really a happy individual, my life sort of felt like a breeze of missunderstanding and dissapointments. Had jobs I was never happy in, very few friends and my social life was almost a chore.
Since that first hit of Lsd, my life took this drastic turn. Was this the life I always considered it to be like for neuro-typicals ?
For the first time in my life it felt like I was the driver. Certain things I marked as impossible became entierly plausable. Social interaction became more of an intimate conquest to get to know and understand as many humans as possible. My life took an incredible 180degree turn and now i’m able to look at life in a way i never dreamed possible. I self evaluate every week to work on my flaws. I consciously push myself out my comfort zone to feel alive. I have life ambitions now that i’m extreamly passionate about achieving. I just feel all around healthier. Able to make sense of my surrounding, better understand friends and family, work without feeling super depressed.
Over all it seems like instead of just have two basic ways of processing infomation I now have a third way, which opened up so much room for movement. Instead of the very narrow-sided robotic view i had before.
I hope this infomation helps, as mental health and Autism especially is something i hold close to my heart. I’d love for there to be a safer way to help thoose suffering from the incurable illness to better understand life in the way i now have, thanks to psychedlics.
In the field of Speech language pathology, we work with many people with Autism on social skills, perspective taking and empathy. The behavioral approaches we have available are either very structured akin to the behaviorist movement in the 50s (i.e. social scripts, reinforcers), or very loose and difficult to measure (like role-playing and video modeling). The results are very hit or miss and rarely generalize long-term to real-life social situations.
The field is ripe for new approaches. Mindfulness is just now starting to catch on, but there are limited studies. Based on the neuroscience, and the evidence you list, I really think there is potential here.
Do you know of any researchers who use psychedelics in tandem with Speech-language pathology interventions? Thanks for this!
Where would you get magic mushrooms? how do you know how much to take? I think this would change my life, I feel anxious about everything. Did anyone find that it helped them speak better? I have trouble explaining myself and get tongue-tied really quickly which makes me more anxious and frustrated. If only people knew what I was thinking.
You can grow them and get the stuff to grow them legally.
mike smith says
I suffered from depression 15 years ago – when I was 25. I took a standard dose of mushrooms while visiting Amsterdam and had a profound experience. For the first time ever, I viewed my life and position (as a very depressed/stuck person) from a new perspective. I had some inner dialogue (felt like I talked to God) while laying with my eyes open on the bed, crying. I mentally conversed my issues, one by one. For each issue, my mind / Inner-Self / God (whatever you want to call it, but not the ‘me’ ego) immediately responded with a logic answer to each issue. “I don’t like my job -> Just quit you job.” “I don’t like my rental room -> Just give up your rent and find something new”. This sounds trivial, but it just seemed so simple to take control of all my issues and change them for good, rather than living a life in “automatic mode”, just go with some random flow (no wonder I was depressed, but I simply couldn’t see I was responsible for my own happiness). I returned back to the UK after that weekend, gave up accommodation, quit my job, left my girlfriend and everything got replaced with so much more/better. 15years later, I still haven’t fallen back into the old routine and I remain happy ever since I took my 1st psychedelics. It would be great it we could find a controlled way to bring plants back to people purely for healing purposes (It’s after all not really party drugs in any case, it’s too deep / profound for recreation, but perfect for self/spiritual-healing).
lue inko says
i tried lsd yesterday im diagnosed with aspergers and a point into the trip i started having bad thoughts and it was like i had a spiritual guide helping me fight those bad thoughts after an hour i was confident in myself and proud of myself that i won the battle with the thoughts i was having when i went to sleep and woke up again i still feel better in myself and i feel that it has given me more depth into my life and sophistication and just a more complete person all together all the rumours that people spread about lsd is by people that have never had lsd orrr tried something that wasn’t lsd i genuinely feel that lsd can help asd and depression legitimately just don’t take 10 tabs at a time take 1 feel how it goes and then if u dont feel much apart from tiny tiny bit of somthing take another till you feel like you have been enlightened
i am not one for normally looking outside and appreciating the world but it made me feel somehow connected to the world and i enjoyed its beauty the trees etc how things were made and i just wanted to stay up all night to watch the sun rise again it was just an all rounded beautiful thing to experience i also found out that im alot stronger minded than my mind portrays it to be aswell
You took too much. This is not microdosing.
Jonathan Dickinson says
This article is unfortunately really heavily laden with language about autism as a pathology. It completely misses a very critical and important part of this study. The treatment of social anxiety related to autism addresses issues related with the social environment that autistic people face, rather than treating autism as a “disorder.” Professor Nicholas Walker who was a consultant on the construction of the study is an outspoken supporter of the nuerodiversity movement to understand autism as a natural and important part of human diversity, and that autism is a “disability” because of how society is contructed and relates with autistic individuals, but not a “social disorder.” It’s disappointing that this article has completely passed over this very important framing. Here is a bit of background on neurodiversity and Professor Walker’s work: http://neurocosmopolitanism.com/neurodiversity-some-basic-terms-definitions/
We appreciate your honest and constructive feedback. We have taken your comments into consideration and have made changes accordingly.
Neurodiversity is a very valid point. I work in the mental health field, and believe that many states and experiences are overly pathologized, rather than explored with genuine and unconditional curiosity. The shift from a pathologizing to a strengths-based approach is something that I hope to see more.
On the other hand, I also think it is valid to address the experiences that feel challenging or overwhelming to the people having them. Even just looking in the comments section of this post, you can see that people have felt benefit and positive change from exploring alternative solutions, such as these. I don’t like that autism is labeled a “disorder,” but that doesn’t mean I think we should ignore the struggles that come with that experience. So many things in life are double-edged swords.
It seems the best of both worlds is to recognize and leverage one’s strengths, as well as having an effective way of resolving the inner pain and conflict while learning and growing. Self-love and self-actualization. Both things can co-exist.
Lee L says
Reading these comments, I see phrases like
” I was introduced to mdma, marijuana, and psychedelics”
“i tried lsd yesterday i’m diagnosed with aspergers”
“Had my first psychedelic experience when I was 21 on Lsd. ”
“i tried lsd yesterday im diagnosed with aspergers and a point into the trip i started having bad thoughts and it was like i had a spiritual guide helping me fight those bad thoughts”
My response to these postings is this:
You took MDMA or LSD or ? Maybe you did. Unless your experience was part of a clinical study, though, you actually have no idea what you took nor did the persons who supplied you with it.
I am probably somewhere on the autistic spectrum as many of the social difficulties, anxiety, discomfort with eye contact, etc. have been part of my life since the age of 12.
I took what I believed at the time to be LSD maybe 15 times, and a few times had very meaningful, even cosmic trips. However, I stopped taking all drugs except alcohol, because athough there may be many benefits to responsible use of these substances, there is also a dark side possible both from use of pure LSD or other pure psychedelics, but also from consuming things you THOUGHT were pure psychedelics but were something else.
I cannot say what I took that day just as you cannot say what you have been taking. It isn’t possible to know outside of a clinical study. What I do know is I stopped. I stopped because I realized that I never ‘came down’ 100 percent from one of those last trips. 45 years later, I still have visual distortions ( kind of like things breaking up into pieces if I stare at them). I can live with it, I can drive but I do notice it is there. Clearly there was a time when these distortions were not part of my visual field as they caused me to stop taking what I thought was LSD and might have been.
This article does not acknowldege this side of psychedelic use and as there are no extensive clinical trials operating most places, you should try doing some research on the possible downside of taking street LSD or MDMA or whatever because even if the trials showed those substances to be completely beneficial ( which they will likely not show, but even if they did), the stuff you are buying cannot and will not be known to be LSD or MDMA or ?? exclusively. You just cannot know.
We can hope that more research and well controlled trials will emerge regarding these substances, but until then..
“Had I been reading articles like this before then, I would have zero’d 3 hits straight instead of 2 half-assed hits that ultimately did little ”
This quote from a commenter really gives the shivers.
A) You can grow mushrooms.
B) What you experienced is what we should be calling an “Over-dose”
C) Since Autistic people fill hospital suicide beds, and since we do not have any treatment.
Please stop with the hate that has nothing to do with the treatment and ignores the truth. Also, Please they make tests to make sure what you have is what people claim it is.
Have Aspergers and agree I feel able to control my life better after phycadelics, better social understanding, Whether it’s just masking my problems rather than fixing them I don’t know but either way I’d rather wear a mask and not suffer than bare the rigmarole of manotonous critcal judemental (society) thinking, I really don’t think the government would ever fully back funding for the use of alternatives cause big pharma probably funds campaigns and wouldn’t benefit them and there agendas, but ideally if autism could be treated with natural substances rather than synthetic junk I would back it all the way. I am interested in this subject and how it’s progressing, dearly.
Britt at The Third Wave says
Thank you so much for sharing your story. We love hearing how psychedelics have benefitted people for all types of reasons! We would love for you to keep us updated on your journey. Do you find that some psychedelics help more than others? Have you tried microdosing, macrodosing or both?
Britt at The Third Wave says
Thank you for sharing your story! We love hearing success stories involving psychedelic integration. As this topic develops, we’ll be sure to look into publishing more articles in the future.
Best of luck to you!
Daniel Shields says
Thank you for sharing and spreading awareness! I hope that this magical plant would not be abused and misused. Everything, if used properly and moderately proves to be beneficial. I hope this could be the future treatment of a lot of diseases. It has endless capabilities!
David Petch says
I remember as a child l had a continuous addiction to rocking in a chair or constantly bouncing back and forth. All the symptoms of Autism. Anger, Isolation, and of course the bouncing, even at the age of 14. I was still bouncing in the back seat of the car when my parents would take me for a drive. My father was extremely ill and passed, my mother became alcoholic and I became a streat kid at the age of 15. Obviously I got into the wrong crowd, but to make a long story short, I started taking LSD. On one occasion I had a extremely high doses. I was completely wasted for 2 or 3 days. Since that time onward the bouncing stopped immediately, I became employable even with the limited education of grade 9. From there I joined the military for a 3 year term and then continued with life with very high quality jobs. Before my LSD experience I could barely read and was unable to concentrate upon any subject. Afterwards I became addicted to reading. I still have trouble with spelling but I think that throughout my life I have done fairly well. I’m currently 57, healthy and happy. Recently I was doing some investigation into Vaccines causing Autism which lead me to these articles. In all honesty I believe I was cured from Autism due to my LSD experience at the age of 15.
I hope one day studies in this field could be continued. Thank you for listening.
Thx for your story David.