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Sustained, multifaceted improvements in mental well-being following psychedelic experiences in a prospective opportunity sample

In the last fifteen years, psychedelic substances, such as LSD and psilocybin, have regained legitimacy in clinical research. In the general population as well as across various psychiatric populations, mental well-being has been found to significantly improve after a psychedelic experience. Mental well-being has large socioeconomic relevance, but it is a complex, multifaceted construct. In this naturalistic observational study, a comprehensive approach was taken to assessing well-being before and after a taking a psychedelic compound to induce a ‘psychedelic experience’. Fourteen measures of well-being related constructs were included in order to examine the breadth and specificity of change in well-being. This change was then analysed to examine clusters of measures changing together. Survey data was collected from volunteers that intended to take a psychedelic. Four key time points were analysed: one week before and two weeks, four weeks, and two years after the experience (N = 654, N = 315, N = 212, and N = 64 respectively). Change on the included measures was found to cluster into three factors which we labelled: 1) ‘Being well’, 2) ‘Staying well’, and 3) ‘Spirituality’. Repeated Measures Multivariate Analysis of Variance revealed all but the spirituality factor to be improved in the weeks following the psychedelic experience. Additional Mixed model analyses revealed selective increases in Being Well and Staying Well (but not Spirituality) that remained statistically significant up to two years post-experience, albeit with high attrition rates. Post-hoc examination suggested that attrition was not due to differential acute experiences or mental-health changes in those who dropped out versus those who did not. These findings suggest that psychedelics can have a broad, robust and sustained positive impact on mental well-being in those that have a prior intention to use a psychedelic compound. Public policy implications are discussed.

Psychedelics and health behaviour change

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.

LSD flattens the brain’s energy landscape: evidence from receptor-informed network control theory

Psychedelics like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) offer a powerful window into the function of the human brain and mind, by temporarily altering subjective experience through their neurochemical effects. The RElaxed Beliefs Under Psychedelics (REBUS) model postulates that 5-HT2a receptor agonism allows the brain to explore its dynamic landscape more readily, as suggested by more diverse (entropic) brain activity. Formally, this effect is theorized to correspond to a reduction in the energy required to transition between different brain-states, i.e. a “flattening of the energy landscape.” However, this hypothesis remains thus far untested. Here, we leverage network control theory to map the brain’s energy landscape, by quantifying the energy required to transition between recurrent brain states. In accordance with the REBUS model, we show that LSD reduces the energy required for brain-state transitions, and, furthermore, that this reduction in energy correlates with more frequent state transitions and increased entropy of brain-state dynamics. Through network control analysis that incorporates the spatial distribution of 5-HT2a receptors, we demonstrate the specific role of this receptor in flattening the brain’s energy landscape. Also, in accordance with REBUS, we show that the occupancy of bottom-up states is increased by LSD. In addition to validating fundamental predictions of the REBUS model of psychedelic action, this work highlights the potential of receptor-informed network control theory to provide mechanistic insights into pharmacological modulation of brain dynamics.

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