UC Berkeley Psychedelics Survey Results Revealed
UC Berkely’s Survey Reveals Broad Support for Psychedelic Therapy Combined with Negative Public Perceptions
UC Berkeley launched the Center for the Science of Psychedelics (BCSP) in 2020, just two months after Oregon voted to authorize legal psilocybin sales and use. As policy initiatives like Oregon’s expand nationwide, BCSP founders wanted to support public education and clinical research surrounding psychedelics’ effects on mental health. Since then, BCSCP started a facilitator training program, an online psychedelics course, and an objective journalism initiative to increase awareness. Along with these efforts, co-founder Michael Pollan and executive director Imran Khan wanted to track their impact on society’s psychedelic perceptions.
Pollan, Khan, and the team wanted to know if psychedelic news, research, and education efforts like BCSPs have penetrated mainstream culture and changed voters’ minds for better or worse. Steered by Project lead Taylor West, BCSP conducted a 1,500-person survey to find out. The results illuminated vital insights about the psychedelic industry’s path forward while predicting pitfalls along the way to legalization. As a mushroom and psilocybin testing laboratory, we were excited to explore the findings.
“This is the first clear picture we have of what the American public think and feel about psychedelics…”
A week before the largest psychedelic conference in history, BSCP conducted the first survey in a new and ongoing longitudinal public opinion research project. Researchers randomly selected 1,500 registered U.S. voters. Respondents were split nearly evenly between males and females, with varying ethnic groups. Most were white, followed by African American and Latinos. Ages ranged from 18 to 75+
- Over 60% of American registered voters favor legalizing regulated therapeutic access to psychedelics.
- Around 35% expressed strong support for the idea.
- An overwhelming 78% of voters backed the idea of facilitating research on psychedelic substances.
- About 49% supported eliminating criminal penalties for personal use and possession.
These statistics reveal a growing acceptance and openness toward exploring the potential benefits of psychedelics in therapeutic settings and bolstering scientific research. But these answers don’t necessarily reflect the full spectrum of opinions that respondents exposed later in the survey. More on that below.
The first step toward building an enduring psychedelic movement is ensuring people are aware of it. Many inner bubble psychonauts assume the public at large knows about these substances, but BSCP’s survey was the first to test that theory. Here’s what respondents had to say.
- 47% heard a “great deal” or at least “a little” about psychedelics.
- 53% had not heard a thing.
Forty-seven percent is no small feat, but this question acknowledges that psychedelic educators still need to reach more than half the U.S. population.
The second step to creating an enduring psychedelic movement is ensuring people who know also support the mission.
Of the nearly half of respondents who reported hearing about psychedelics, 48% associated them with mental health treatment tools. Almost four times as many respondents mentioned mental health than any other answer, which is excellent news for people who support legal, medical use, or medicalization.
Unfortunately, the next common response was less flattering. Thirteen percent of people said they heard about psychedelics in the context of being “illegal” or “harmful drugs.” Such negative perceptions imply that much of the latest clinical research on psychedelic health benefits has not permeated mainstream culture.
Knowledge About Psychedelics
The BSCP team also wanted to test people’s psychedelic knowledge and familiarity with individual substances. The answers they received don’t exactly align with today’s positive headlines and legislative victories.
For example. MDMA is about a year from FDA approval, making it a hot topic amongst the media and psychedelic professionals. Psilocybin mushrooms for treatment-resistant depression are next in line. In contrast, LSD is not legal in any state or close to FDA approval. Yet, respondents were most aware of this synthetic compound and most likely to label it as a “classic psychedelic” over MDMA and magic mushrooms.
Connection to Psychedelic Use
Beyond awareness, BCSP wanted to understand people’s direct and indirect experiences with psychedelics. To find out, they asked whether people had tried these substances or knew a “first-degree connection” who had.
- 52% said they or someone close to them had tried psychedelics.
- Nearly half of those with direct or indirect experience reported use within the last five years.
- 73% reported the purpose was recreational, followed by 39% therapeutic.
Many psychedelic advocates stress the importance of equal access. Yet UC Berkeley’s survey revealed the reality that the psychedelics movement today is very much a middle-aged, white man’s game.
- Males were significantly more likely to report psychedelic awareness than females (18% v 12%).
- Males were also likelier to report first-degree connection to psychedelic use than females (56% v 48%).
- Respondents in their 30s and 40s were most likely to have a “great deal” of psychedelic awareness.
- White voters (56%), followed by Latinos (50%) and African American (26%), were most likely to have a first-degree connection to psychedelics use.
Psychedelic knowledge and experience are also aligned with educational level and geographical location. According to the survey, respondents in the West and Midwest were most likely to know about and utilize psychedelics. Higher education was another critical predictor of use and knowledge.
Attitudes Toward Psychedelic Policy Reforms
Psychedelic advocates have launched several policy reform efforts in recent years, attempting to change local, state, and federal laws. However, every policy has different goals and outcomes.
BCSP wanted to know which proposal types garnered the highest support, so they tested five categories: Research expansion, Regulated Therapeutic Use, Medicalization, Decriminalization, and Religious or Spiritual Use.
- 78% said they supported policies to make psychedelic research easier.
- 61% supported regulated therapeutic use.
- 56% indicated support for medicalization, aka the FDA approval route.
- 49% indicated support for the decriminalization of personal use and possession.
- 44% say they’d allow religious and spiritual use.
These numbers are extraordinarily hopeful, especially for therapeutic use, which received the highest level of support. Oregon and Colorado are the best examples of regulated therapeutic use states, and both passed these laws with lower voter percentages than the 61% indicated in this poll. For example, Oregon’s 2022 ballot initiative passed with 56% support, while Colorado’s passed with 54%.
Perception of Psychedelics
The Berkley Psychedelics Survey also tracked what people think and believe about psychedelics by providing descriptions and asking respondents to indicate which ones aligned most with their perceptions. The findings revealed that the public still holds broadly negative views of psychedelics, which could hinder future legalization efforts.
Many respondents strongly associated psychedelics with dangerous substances that could negatively impact long-term health. Such findings reveal that psychedelic advocates and educators have significant work ahead of them.
The Bottom Line
The UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics survey found that many American registered voters support legalizing regulated therapeutic access to psychedelics. Additionally, a large majority of voters backed psychedelic research initiatives. However, the survey also revealed that therapeutic support doesn’t equate to broadly positive perceptions, with some associating psychedelics with illegal and harmful drugs. The findings suggest that advocates must increase public education about the potential benefits of psychedelics for reasons beyond therapeutic, like recreational and spiritual. Overall, the results indicate a growing acceptance and openness toward these transformative substances.
ACS Laboratory supports safe, regulated psychedelics access. As a DEA-registered laboratory, we test licensed psilocybin products for potency and purity, ensuring accurate, consistent results. Contact us today to learn more.