Psychological flexibility mediates the relations between acute psychedelic effects and subjective decreases in depression and anxiety

This survey study (n=985) finds that psychological flexibility fully mediated the effects of mystical/peak experiences on depression/anxiety.


“Prior research has shown that acute subjective psychedelic effects are associated with both spontaneous and intended changes in depression and anxiety. Psychedelics are also theorized to produce increases in psychological flexibility, which could explain decreases in depression and anxiety following a psychedelic experience. Therefore, the present cross-sectional survey study sought to examine whether psychological flexibility mediated the relationship between acute psychedelic experiences and spontaneous or intended changes in depression and anxiety among a large international sample of people who reported having used a psychedelic (n = 985; male = 71.6%; Caucasian/white = 84.1%; Mage = 32.2, SD = 12.6). Regression analysis showed that acute effects (i.e., mystical and insightful effects) were significantly associated with decreases in depression/anxiety following a psychedelic experience. A path analysis revealed that, while controlling for age and sex, increases in psychological flexibility fully mediated the effect of mystical and insightful experiences on decreases in depression and anxiety following a psychedelic experience. This suggests that psychological flexibility may be an important mediator of the therapeutic effects of psychedelic drugs. Future prospective experimental studies should examine the effect of psychedelic drug administration on psychological flexibility in order to gain a better understanding of the psychological processes that predict therapeutic effects of psychedelics.”

Authors: Alan K. Davis, Frederick S. Barrett & Roland R. Griffiths


This paper is included in our ‘Top 10 Articles on Psychedelics in the Treatment of Depression

This paper offers extra insights into other studies that investigate psychedelics through the lens of the mystical experience (e.g. Griffiths et al., 2008). It offers a (survey-based) new way of interpreting the effect of a mystical experience.

“Further, when mystical and psychological insight effects were included simultaneously as predictors of changes in our models, results showed that psychological insight stands out as a more robust predictor of change, as evidenced by the larger direct (Insight: β = 0.46 versus Mystical: β = 0.09) and indirect (Insight: β = 0.29 versus Mystical: β = 0.06) coefficients in the path analysis.”

This part of the discussion argues that psychological insight is more important than the mystical experience. And that therapies that improve psychological insight (e.g. ACT therapy) can be important in improving the efficacy of psychedelic therapy.

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