Views on Using Psychoactive Substances to Self-Manage Functional Neurological Disorder: Online Patient Survey Results

J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2022 May 17;appineuropsych21080213. doi: 10.1176/appi.neuropsych.21080213. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Objective: Functional neurological disorder (FND) causes a high burden of disability and distress. Although it is a common disorder, there is a pressing need for improved access to evidence-based treatments. With difficulties in finding effective treatment, some people with FND may seek alternative means of symptom relief, such as legal and illicit psychoactive substances, although the prevalence and nature of such self-management strategies are currently unclear. Additionally, psychoactive substances may represent novel treatment research opportunities, particularly for those with suboptimal improvement. The investigators examined the use of self-management techniques, as well as perspectives on novel therapies, in this patient population.

Methods: An online survey was created to assess self-management strategies and views on novel treatments for FND, including psychedelic therapy. The survey was accessible for 1 month, and respondents were recruited internationally through social media and patient groups. A total of 1,048 respondents from 16 countries completed the survey.

Results: Almost half (46%) of 980 respondents reported having tried legal psychoactive substances for the management of their FND symptoms and, on average, nicotine, alcohol, and cannabidiol were reported as modestly effective. Additionally, 15% of respondents reported having used illicit substances, mostly cannabis, to manage FND, with the majority reporting moderate effectiveness and experiencing no or minimal physical (90%) and psychological (95%) sequelae. Many respondents (46%) reported that they would be willing to try medically supervised psychedelic therapy (with 19% of respondents ambivalent) if it were found to be safe and effective.

Conclusions: Many people with FND seek alternative means of symptom management outside usual medical care, including legal and illicit psychoactive substances. Further research exploring novel treatment options, such as psychedelics, in FND may be warranted.

Keywords: Drug/Psychotherapy Treatment of Neuropsychiatric Disorders; Somatoform Disorders; functional neurological disorder; psychedelics; self-management.