Psychedelics and Health Behavior Change

This review (2021) explores the prospects of psychedelic substances as facilitators of behavioral change that promote a healthy lifestyle concerning diet, exercise, and substance abuse, through psychological mechanisms such as the relaxation of prior beliefs. The authors emphasize that self-determination, confidence, and interconnectedness as useful concepts to understand how individuals derive positive perspectives and internal motivation from a well-integrated psychedelic experience. It is noted that psychedelic substances should not replace, but augment, prior commitments, as they highlight their integration within the context of therapeutic models, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Abstract

Healthful behaviors such as maintaining a balanced diet, being physically active, and refraining from smoking have major impacts on the risk of developing cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and other serious conditions. The burden of the so-called “lifestyle diseases” – in personal suffering, premature mortality, and public health costs – is considerable. Consequently, interventions designed to promote healthy behaviors are increasingly being studied, e.g. using psychobiological models of behavioral regulation and change. In this article, we explore the notion that psychedelic substances such as psilocybin could be used to assist in promoting positive lifestyle change conducive to good overall health. Psilocybin has a low toxicity, is non-addictive, and has been shown to predict favorable changes in patients with depression, anxiety, and other conditions marked by rigid behavioral patterns, including substance (mis)use. While it is still early days for modern psychedelic science, research is advancing fast and results are promising. Here we describe psychedelics’ proposed mechanisms of action and research findings pertinent to health behavior change science, hoping to generate discussion and new research hypotheses linking the two areas. Therapeutic models including psychedelic experiences and common behavior change methods (e.g., Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Motivational Interviewing) are already being tested for addiction and eating disorders. We believe this research may soon be extended to help promote improved diet, exercise, nature exposure, and also mindfulness or stress reduction practices, all of which can contribute to physical and psychological health and wellbeing.

Authors: Pedro Teixeira, Matthew Johnson, Christopher Timmermann, Rosalind Watts, David Erritzoe, Hannah Douglass, Hannes Kettner & Robin L. Carhart-Harris

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