LSD and magic mushroom deaths in Australia are rare but significant

June 2024
Darke S, Duflou J, Peacock A, Farrell M, Hall W, Lappin J. A retrospective study of the characteristics and toxicology of cases of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)- and psilocybin-related death in Australia. Addiction. 2024.

A study led by researchers at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) outlines the profiles and circumstances of 43 deaths related to LSD or psilocybin (commonly known as magic mushrooms) in Australia between 2000 and 2023. The study is based on autopsy information retrieved from the National Coronial Information System and is the first review of its kind in Australia.

33 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.

“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,” says 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,” says Professor Darke.

While rare, deaths occur in community settings

All these documented deaths occurred in community settings. While the number of deaths is small in comparison to total exposure to these drugs, they do occur, says Professor Darke.

“There is a perception among amany people that psychedelic drugs are ‘safe’ options,” says Professor Darke.

“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.”

Accident or injury most common cause

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’ says Professor Darke.

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

“Coroner’s notes documented misadventure and out-of-character behaviour prior to death, which shows that some people having bad reactions with tragic consequences,” says Professor Darke.

Cases of toxicity and sudden death

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.

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

This study was covered by the ABC’s Health Report.

Full study available to read in Addiction.