Psychedelics and health behaviour change

This theory-building paper (2021) argues for the positive impact that psychedelic use can have on health behaviors. Current trials are using psychedelics for mental health disorders, but future studies could look further to improvements in diet, exercise, nature exposure and other behaviours that promote physical and psychological well-being.

Abstract

Healthful behaviours 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 behaviours are increasingly being studied, e.g., using psychobiological models of behavioural 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 favourable changes in patients with depression, anxiety and other conditions marked by rigid behavioural 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 behaviour change science, hoping to generate discussion and new research hypotheses linking the two areas. Therapeutic models including psychedelic experiences and common behaviour change methods (e.g., Cognitive Behaviour 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 well-being.

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

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