Sub-Acute Effects of Psilocybin on Empathy, Creative Thinking, and Subjective Well-Being

This open-label study (n=55) found that a high-dose of psilocybin at a retreat led to more divergent thinking and emotional empathy the day after (n=50). At seven days (n=22) enhancement of convergent thinking and well-being persisted.

Abstract

“Creative thinking and empathy are crucial for everyday interactions and subjective well-being. This is emphasized by studies showing a reduction in these skills in populations where social interaction and subjective well-being are significantly compromised (e.g., depression). Anecdotal reports and recent studies suggest that a single administration of psilocybin can enhance such processes and could therefore be a potential treatment. However, it has yet to be assessed whether effects outlast acute intoxication. The present study aimed to assess the sub-acute effects of psilocybin on creative thinking, empathy, and well-being. Participants attending a psilocybin retreat completed tests of creative (convergent and divergent) thinking and empathy, and the satisfaction with life scale on three occasions: before ingesting psilocybin (N = 55), the morning after (N = 50), and seven days after (N = 22). Results indicated that psilocybin enhanced divergent thinking and emotional empathy the morning after use. Enhancements in convergent thinking, valence-specific emotional empathy, and well-being persisted seven days after use. Subacute changes in empathy correlated with changes in well-being. The study demonstrates that a single administration of psilocybin in a social setting may be associated with sub-acute enhancement of creative thinking, empathy, and subjective well-being. Future research should test whether these effects contribute to the therapeutic effects in clinical populations.”

Authors: Natasha L. Mason, Elisabeth Mischler, Malin V. Uthaug, & Kim P. C. Kuypers

Notes

The participants took quite the high dose of psilocybin, 34.2 grams of truffles on average (8.9 standard deviation), which is normally sold and consumed per 10-15 grams. The average amount of psilocybin was 27.1 mg.

No significant effect on convergent thinking was found the day after, but this was so at seven days later (d = .46, medium effect size). This was measured with the Picture Concept Task (PCT) as was used by Kuypers and colleagues (2016).

Divergent thinking was increased the day after on both the measures of fluency (number of responses) and originality, but not on the ratio of those. This effect didn’t persist at seven days later.

On cognitive empathy there was no effect. Emotional empathy was measured both explicitly and implicitly and was influenced. Implicit emotional empathy was significantly higher for all three subscales (negative, positive, average) but only negative stimuli remained at seven days. Explicit emotional empathy was only found for the average and negative emotions, only the day after.

Participants rated their life as more satisfactory both at the day after and at 7 days later (d = .77 and d = .50 respectively). Those who had already used psychedelics before already had a higher life satisfaction score (as compared to those for whom it was the first time).

“In conclusion, the present study demonstrates that psilocybin, taken in a naturalistic setting, promotes constructs of creativity and empathy, and enhances subjective well-being. These findings highlight the possible underlying role of enhanced creativity and empathy in the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. Importantly, the effects outlast the acute state, potentially opening up a “window of opportunity” where therapeutic interventions could prove more effective. These findings add further support to growing evidence suggesting that psychedelics may hold therapeutic value for treating stress-related mood disorders.”

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