While the benefits of psychedelic compounds on a variety of mental health issues have been widely documented, a new review has found that there’s even more to be excited about when it comes to psychedelic medicine’s potential. A team of researchers from Imperial College London and Johns Hopkins University recently found that previous psychedelic experiences might have positive impacts on physical health as well.
The team, led by Pedro Teixeira, Ph.D., of the University of Lisbon and the Director of Research at the Synthesis Institute, reviewed a number of previous research studies aimed toward determining the efficacy of psychedelic treatment in mental illness. In those studies, the team focused instead on how participants’ overall health was affected by the compounds. What they found was evidence that psychedelic compounds might cause long-lasting improvements in health due to positive behavior changes.
“Our assumption in this review is that taken as a whole, the population, mechanistic (e.g., increased neuroplasticity), and clinical studies are consistent with the possibility that health behaviors tend to improve with positive psychedelic experiences,” Dr. Teixeira told Lucid News. “Also, decades of anecdotal reports of major changes in people’s lives upon psychedelic experiences (many of which were likely unintentional) indicate they would also impact people’s behaviors, including behaviors that are known to be health protective.”
So-called “lifestyle diseases,” like hypertension, obesity, smoking, substance use disorders, and cardiovascular diseases, are common today, but may be preventable when healthy lifestyle choices are implemented. Things like regular exercise, healthy food choices, and abstaining from smoking reduce the risk of “lifestyle diseases” tremendously. Teixeira and his team posit that those with a history of psychedelic treatment are more likely to make positive lifestyle choices as a result of their psychedelic experiences, which means that psychedelics could one day be used as a treatment or preventative for many of the common lifestyle-based health problems we see today.
But more research is necessary, explains Teixeira. “We really need all types of studies, as this association has rarely been addressed in modern research, perhaps with the exception of psychedelic therapy and depression,” he says.
“If we consider health from the perspective we adopt in this review – i.e., behavioral health, manifested in protective behaviors such as a good diet, more physical activity, less sitting/screen time, regular contemplative practices, etc., we need both large observational studies that follow groups of users and non-users throughout their lives,” Teixeira says, as well as “intervention studies that specifically test the effect of psychedelic-assisted interventions.”
There’s hope that in the future, these findings will result in the development of medications and treatment protocols that affect long-term changes in lifestyle behaviors.
“Trials are currently planned or underway for a large number of conditions, from alcoholism to eating disorders and even cluster headaches,” says Teixeira. “Psychedelic science – from fundamental neuroscience to applied psycho-behavioral interventions, and large-scale population surveys – has never been so vibrant.”
The importance of clinical trials and studies cannot be understated. “More and better research,” explains Teixeira, “will help pave the way to a much gentler and productive use of these very old tools, for the challenges of today’s society — including that of improving mental, physical and behavioral health.”
Image: Nicki Adams using adapted photo by William Rafti