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Study: Psychedelics May Help Stuttering

A newly published study from researchers at New York University found that individuals dealing with a stutter derived some benefit from substances such as psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in “magic mushrooms,” and LSD.

“Given the positive effects of psychedelics on conditions like anxiety and PTSD, which share symptoms with stuttering, we think that investigating the potential impact of psychedelics on stuttering can be a fruitful area of research,” said Eric S. Jackson, an associate professor of communicative sciences and disorders at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and the lead author of the study. 

The research, published this month in the Journal of Fluency Disorders, is the “first study to explore self-reported experiences of self-identified stutterers using classic psychedelics.”

“Stuttering poses challenges to social, occupational, and educational aspects of life. Traditional behavioral therapies can be helpful but effects are often limited. Pharmaceutical treatments have been explored, but there are no FDA-approved treatments for stuttering. Interest has grown in the potential use of classic psychedelics, including psilocybin and LSD, which have shown effectiveness in treating disorders with similar symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depression, PTSD). The potential effects of psychedelics on stuttering have not been explored,” Jackson and his team wrote in the study’s abstract.

Stuttering is “typically characterized by its symptoms—intermittent disruptions in speech,” they added. 

“Stuttering, or the possibility of stuttering, also triggers anxiety, fear, and shame which significantly impact quality of life. Negative reactions of listeners, such as teasing or mocking exacerbate these feelings, complicating the individual’s ability to cope with and move forward in speech when stuttering occurs. The speech of stutterers is amenable to change in therapy, but such change is often not durable with relics of tension, struggle, and avoidance re-emerging,” the researchers said. “To achieve lasting changes, stutterers may benefit from redefining their relationship with stuttering, exploring concepts like openness and self-acceptance. There is a pressing need for innovative approaches that support overall well-being, reduce negative thoughts and emotions, and enhance ease of communication for stutterers.”

They “conducted a preliminary investigation of self-identified stutterers who report their experiences taking classic psychedelics on the online messaging forum, Reddit,” before performing a qualitative analysis on “114 publicly available posts, extracting meaningful units and assigning descriptor codes inductively.”

The researchers said that their search of Reddit “yielded 167 posts, with 14 excluded for lacking firsthand accounts (e.g., describing others’ experiences) and 39 for not discussing classic psychedelics (rather, they discussed ketamine or MDMA). 

“The final sample comprised 114 posts from 104 Reddit distinct users, including multiple contributions from some users. Due to 12 users deleting their usernames, the exact number of unique users was estimated to be at least 92. Results reflective of individual percentages were based on 104,” they explained.

“We then deductively organized responses into an established framework of psychedelics which includes behavioral, emotional, cognitive, beliefbased, and social effects. These effects were subsequently grouped under organizing themes (positive, negative, neutral),” they wrote.

A majority of the users –– 74 percent –– ”reported positive overall short-term effects particularly related to behavioral and emotional change (e.g., reduced stuttering and anxiety), but negative (9.6%), mixed (positive and negative; 4.8%), and neutral overall experiences (11.6%) were also reported.” 

“The results support the possibility that psychedelics my impact stuttering, but caution must be applied in their interpretation given the entirely uncontrolled research setting and potential adverse health effects of psychedelics as reported elsewhere. While these results do not encourage the use of psychedelics by stutterers, they suggest that future work could examine the impact of psychedelics on stuttering under supervised and in clinically controlled settings,” the researchers wrote. 

They explained that the “results from a qualitative analysis of self-identified stutterers’ experiences of classic psychedelics, providing an initial investigation of the potential impact of psychedelics on stuttering from the perspective of stutterers.” 

The most reported effect among Reddit users, the researchers said, “was reduced stuttering, with half of users reporting a reduction in their stuttering.” 

“Users also reported reduced effort, ‘improved’ speech, and increased speech control while on psychedelics or shortly thereafter,” the researchers said. 

“People who stutter are in need of more effective treatments to manage intermittent disruptions in speech communication and also provide relief from distress that accompanies their social experiences, such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation,” they wrote in their conclusion. “To date, there are no FDA-approved pharmacotherapies to treat stuttering. Our study suggests that some users on the internet forum Reddit who self-identify as people who stutter have reported beneficial short-term outcomes.”

Jackson said that the “results support the possibility that psychedelics may impact stuttering, but caution must be applied in their interpretation given the entirely uncontrolled research setting and potential adverse health effects of psychedelics as reported elsewhere.” 

“While these results do not encourage the use of psychedelics by stutterers, they suggest that future work could examine the impact of psychedelics on stuttering in randomized controlled clinical trials,” Jackson said. 

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