We all want to live happy and healthy lives. We try to eat well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, manage stress, cut back on alcohol, and get sufficient sleep most days. But of course, we’re not perfect. We’re human beings.
Maybe we lack motivation, are exposed to too many temptations, or perhaps our brains aren’t wired to stay disciplined; maintaining healthy habits isn’t easy for many.
Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics in treating mental health conditions. In addition to their therapeutic potential, psychedelics like psilocybin, and LSD have been shown to facilitate positive behavior changes from psychedelics.
So, can psychedelics help us keep on top of our health? Continue reading to find out the latest on this exciting field of research.
Health Behavior Changes From Psychedelics
A review article published in 2021 discussed how the use of psychedelic substances, such as LSD and psilocybin, can contribute to maintaining healthy habits. It explored the potential mechanisms involved in the impact of psychedelics in enhancing health behavior change.
Enhances Cognitive Flexibility
Cognitive flexibility is the brain’s ability to switch between different mental processes, adapt to changing environments, and think creatively. On a neurobiological level, psychedelics have been shown to increase cognitive flexibility at various levels and ways:
- Promotes Neuroplasticity: Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. Psychedelics are known to promote plasticity, allowing the brain to adapt and change more readily. This can lead to improved cognitive flexibility.
- Activates the Serotonin Receptor: Psychedelics primarily interact with serotonin receptors, particularly the 5-HT2A receptor. Activation of these receptors has been linked to changes in neural networks and increased neural plasticity. Both of these contribute to cognitive flexibility.
- Disrupts the Default Mode Network (DMN): Psychedelics tend to disrupt the activity of the brain’s default mode network. This network is associated with self-referential thoughts and rigid thinking patterns. By dampening the DMN, psychedelics can create a more open and flexible mental state.
- Enhances Connectivity in the Brain: Research has shown that psychedelics can lead to increased connectivity between brain regions that don’t normally communicate extensively. This “cross-talk” between different areas of the brain could facilitate the integration of diverse information and foster cognitive flexibility.
- Elevates State of Consciousness: The altered state of consciousness induced by psychedelics can promote novel ways of thinking and problem-solving. People often report experiencing enhanced creativity, insight, and a broader perspective during these experiences.
- Neurochemical Changes: Psychedelics can lead to changes in the release of various neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. This can potentially alter the balance of brain activity and promote cognitive flexibility.
The study authors proposed that “the effects of psychedelics at multiple levels of the cognitive hierarchy may result in long-term changes in behaviour”.
The researchers suggest that psychedelics may increase our motivation to change our behavior based on the Self-Determination Theory (SDT).
The Self-Determination Theory was developed by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in the 1980s. It is a psychological framework that focuses on understanding human motivation. The framework proposes that individuals have innate psychological needs that, when fulfilled, lead to optimal development and functioning.
The theory emphasizes three fundamental psychological needs:
- Autonomy: This refers to the need to feel in control of one’s own actions and choices. When we experience autonomy, we have a sense of agency and independence in our decisions, rather than feeling coerced or controlled by external forces.
- Competence: People have an inherent desire to feel capable and effective in their pursuits. When we are given opportunities to develop and demonstrate our skills, we experience a sense of competence. This leads to increased confidence and motivation.
- Relatedness: People need social connection and a sense of belonging. We thrive when we have positive relationships and interactions with others, fostering feelings of acceptance, empathy, and emotional support.
The theory distinguishes between two types of motivation:
- Intrinsic Motivation: This is when individuals engage in an activity because they find it inherently satisfying, interesting, or enjoyable. Intrinsic motivation arises from within and is driven by personal interests and values.
- Extrinsic Motivation: Extrinsic motivation involves engaging in an activity to obtain external rewards or avoid punishments. This type of motivation can range from external regulation (performing an activity for a reward) to unconscious regulation (doing something to avoid guilt or gain approval) and identified regulation (recognizing the value of an activity and choosing to do it).
SDT proposes that intrinsic motivation is more likely to lead to sustained engagement and positive outcomes compared to extrinsic motivation. Creating environments that support individuals’ autonomy, competence, and relatedness can foster intrinsic motivation and overall well-being.
Boosts Intrinsic Motivation
The study authors state that research that shows a direct relationship between psychedelics and self-determination does not exist. That said, they drew from various psychedelic research trials that looked at depression, alcohol cessation, and smoking cessation to support their hypothesis.
In the context of competence, participants’ accounts highlighted increased confidence, resilience, effectiveness, and commitment to change.
In terms of autonomy, transformative psychedelic experiences were linked to insights into self-identity, authenticity, and alignment with internal needs.
Relatedness was impacted by lasting feelings of interconnectedness, enhanced prosocial behavior, and an increase in feelings of connectedness to others during significant psychedelic experiences.
A psychedelic experience can be profoundly inspiring, evoking a sense of awe, wonder, and interconnectedness. This newfound inspiration may translate into motivation to pursue positive changes in various aspects of life, including health-related habits.
Whether it’s adopting a regular exercise routine, making healthier food choices, or practicing stress-reduction techniques, the inspiration derived from a psychedelic experience can fuel the commitment to maintain these habits over time.
Straight from Dr. Pedro Teixeira
Specifically, he spoke about types of health-related behaviors that could be encouraged by psychedelic experiences. He also spoke about the new paradigm of “behavioral psychedelics” and possible preventative health roles for psychedelics. He shared how increasing self-determination can have beneficial effects on our health.
“When you behave from a self-determined perspective, or when you’re motivated more internally as opposed to being more externally motivated, your outcomes will be better. Your behavioral outcomes, but also your health outcomes.”
Dr. Teixeira also commented on how his findings can influence political decisions and improve the health of future generations:
“What better way to convince future politicians or policymakers than to show that people are actually improving the quality of their lives and their health habits and saving healthcare costs and eating more sustainable diets? Perhaps, if indeed the studies in Oregon and in the future in other places are showing that there is a preventative aspect, [then] there is a lifestyle enhancement aspect to these experiences.”
Other Potential Mechanisms
Researching the effects of psychedelics on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being is still in its infancy. However, there are several potential mechanisms to explain how psychedelics may serve as a catalyst to help us adopt and sustain healthy habits that contribute to our overall well-being.
Increases Emotional Awareness
Unhealthy habits often stem from negative thought patterns and emotional triggers. Psychedelics have the potential to disrupt these patterns by allowing individuals to confront underlying issues that contribute to their habits.
Through self-reflection and confronting difficult emotions, people can gain fresh perspectives on their behaviors and the underlying factors driving them. This newfound insight can be a powerful catalyst for breaking free from negative cycles and replacing them with healthier alternatives.
Mindfulness, the practice of being fully present and aware at the moment, is a cornerstone of healthy living. Psychedelics can facilitate a heightened state of mindfulness, allowing individuals to fully engage with their experiences, thoughts, and sensations.
Eve Ekman and Gabrielle Agin-Liebes published an article titled “Can a Psychedelic Experience Improve Your Life?” The article appeared in The Greater Good Magazine at the University of California, Berkeley. The authors compare the benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapies to those of mindfulness practices. They wrote:
“Mindfulness practice and psychedelic experiences can positively alter one’s emotional process in two primary ways: increasing one’s ability to be in direct contact with the present moment (instead of being caught in emotions of the past or anticipation of the future) and enhancing experiences of positive emotions. Being with feelings in the present moment includes reducing our negative mind-wandering and bringing kindness and friendliness to difficult emotions.”
This enhanced mindfulness can extend beyond the psychedelic experience, helping individuals stay attuned to their bodies, emotions, and external environment. By fostering mindfulness, psychedelics can encourage individuals to make conscious choices aligned with their well-being.
Psychedelic substances are known to induce altered states of consciousness, fostering introspection and self-awareness. During a trip, individuals often experience a heightened sense of connectedness with themselves and the world around them.
This state of introspection can lead to profound realizations about our behavior, motivations, and thought patterns. By examining their habits and identifying areas for improvement, individuals can emerge from the experience with a newfound determination to make positive changes in their lives.
Healing Trauma and Promoting Self-Care
Many individuals turn to psychedelics for their potential to heal emotional trauma. By revisiting traumatic memories in a safe and supported environment, individuals can process and release emotional baggage that may have been driving unhealthy habits.
This healing process often leads to increased self-compassion and a greater inclination towards self-care. Engaging in self-care practices, such as exercise, meditation, and adequate sleep, becomes more natural and enjoyable after healing from trauma.
Microdosing and Improved Health Habits
A study aimed to conduct an initial exploration of the benefits and safety of microdosing. Over a thousand participants from 58 countries completed daily evaluations of their emotional state using the PANAS checklist.
Responses showed that the following improvements were experienced after repeated microdoses:
- Increases in positive mood
- Decreases in negative mood
- Increased energy
- Improved work effectiveness
- Improved health habits
A study looked at the benefits and challenges of psychedelic microdosing. The sample included qualitative reports of 278 microdosers who used LSD only, psilocybin only, or both. The results regarding behavioral improvements and substance-use reductions showed the following:
- 92.9% improved mood
- 59.2% improved anxiety
- 49.1% improved meditative practice
- 49.1% improved exercise
- 36.0% improved eating habits
- 28.8% improved sleep
- 44.2% reduced use of caffeine
- 42.3% reduced use of alcohol
- 30.3% reduced use of cannabis
- 21.0% reduced use of tobacco
- 16.9% reduced use of psychiatric prescription medication
- 16.1% illicit substances
The study concluded that “microdosing research could help inform future psychedelic research by investigating the potential for mixing or contrasting micro- and full-dose psychedelic psychotherapies”.
Learn more about Microdosing Psychedelics: Where Does the Research Stand?
Reduced Alcohol Use
A study looked at alcohol misuse after psychedelic use. An anonymous online survey was given to individuals with a history of alcohol use disorder. Questions assessed cessation or reduction in alcohol use following psychedelic use in non-clinical settings.
A total of 343 responses were received:
- 89% identified as White
- 78% were male
- 60% located in the US
- 72% retrospectively met the criteria for severe Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
The participants had an average history of problematic alcohol use spanning seven years before undergoing a psychedelic experience.
The results showed that 38% and 36% of participants reported taking moderate to high doses of LSD or psilocybin, respectively. Responses showed that this experience was followed by a significant decrease in alcohol consumption.
The results found that 83% of the participants no longer fulfilled the criteria for AUD after psychedelic use.
The participants evaluated their psychedelic experiences as profoundly meaningful and insightful. 28% acknowledged their psychedelic experience helped change their life priorities or values and facilitated their reduction of alcohol misuse.
The study revealed that a higher dose of psychedelics, along with the degree of insight, mystical-type effects, and personal meaning of the experience, was connected to a more substantial decrease in alcohol consumption. This association was observed even after controlling for prior alcohol consumption and related distress.
The authors propose the potential of naturalistic psychedelic use to trigger a reduction or cessation of problematic alcohol use. The study concludes by advocating for further exploration of psychedelic-assisted approaches in the treatment of AUD.
Impact on Substance Use Disorders
Another anonymous online survey was rolled out to understand cannabis, opioid, or stimulant use following psychedelic use in non-clinical settings.
A total of 444 respondents participated in the survey:
- 67% located in the US
- 79% retrospectively met the criteria for severe Substance Use Disorder (SUD)
Participants reported an average of 4.5 years of problematic substance use prior to their psychedelic experience.
43% reported consuming a moderate or high dose of LSD and 29% used psilocybin-containing mushrooms. Respondents state their use resulted in reductions in their drug consumption.
Prior to the psychedelic use, 96% fulfilled SUD criteria; after psychedelic use, only 27% met these criteria.
Participants gave their psychedelic experience high ratings for being meaningful and insightful. 28% acknowledged that changes in life priorities or values associated with the psychedelic encounter facilitated the reduction in substance misuse.
Factors like larger doses, insights, mystical-type effects, and personal significance of experiences correlated with a greater reduction in drug consumption.
The use of cross-sectional and self-report methods doesn’t establish a causal relationship between psychedelics and changes in drug use. Despite this, the findings suggest the potential of psychedelics to contribute to decreases in problematic substance use. These results underscore the need for further clinical research into the potential of psychedelic-assisted therapy for Substance Use Disorder.
Improved Physical Activity Levels and Diet
A study looked at the effects of ayahuasca and public health. A self-administered questionnaire was rolled out to long-term ayahuasca users around Spain. It assessed health status, psychosocial well-being, lifestyle, and coping strategies.
Results showed that long-term ayahuasca use was associated with a higher positive perception of health or with a healthy lifestyle. 56% of the participants reported a decrease in their use of prescription medications due to their ayahuasca use.
Scores related to personal values were significantly higher among those who had consumed ayahuasca over 100 times. Regular ayahuasca users had a healthier diet, were more active, and had lower obesity rates compared to the general population.
The study concluded that “a respectful and controlled use of hallucinogenic/psychedelic drugs taken in communitarian settings can be incorporated into modern society with benefits for public health. This new approach is based on the use of health indicators that were not used in previous ayahuasca studies. It offers relevant information about the impact of long-term exposure to ayahuasca on public health”.
Therefore, there is some evidence to show that psychedelics have the potential to help us maintain healthy habits. However, it is unclear exactly what mechanisms are involved and whether they can create lasting behavior changes from psychedelics.
It’s important to approach psychedelic use in a responsible manner and with proper guidance. Check out our vetted directory of licensed providers near you or online.
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Health Behavior Changes From Psychedelics
Teixeira, P. J., Johnson, M. W., Timmermann, C., Watts, R., Erritzoe, D., Douglass, H., Ketner, H., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2021). Psychedelics and health behaviour change. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 36(1), 026988112110085. https://doi.org/10.1177/02698811211008554
Gattuso, J. J., Perkins, D., Ruffell, S., Lawrence, A. J., Hoyer, D., Jacobson, L. H., Timmermann, C., Castle, D., Rossell, S. L., Downey, L. A., Pagni, B. A., Galvão-Coelho, N. L., Nutt, D., & Sarris, J. (2022). Default Mode Network Modulation by Psychedelics: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. https://doi.org/10.1093/ijnp/pyac074
Other Potential Mechanisms
Ekman, E., & Agin-Liebes, G. (2019, October 23). Can a Psychedelic Experience Improve Your Life? Greater Good. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/can_a_psychedelic_experience_improve_your_life
Microdosing and Improved Health Habits
Fadiman, J., & Korb, S. (2019). Might Microdosing Psychedelics Be Safe and Beneficial? An Initial Exploration. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 51(2), 118–122. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2019.1593561
-García, A., González-Robles, A., Mor, S., Mira, A., Quero, S., García-Palacios, A., Baños, R. M., & Botella, C. (2020). Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS): psychometric properties of the online Spanish version in a clinical sample with emotional disorders. BMC Psychiatry, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-020-2472-1
Anderson, T., Petranker, R., Christopher, A., Rosenbaum, D., Weissman, C., Dinh-Williams, L.-A., Hui, K., & Hapke, E. (2019). Psychedelic microdosing benefits and challenges: an empirical codebook. Harm Reduction Journal, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12954-019-0308-4
Reduced Alcohol Use
Garcia-Romeu, A., Davis, A. K., Erowid, F., Erowid, E., Griffiths, R. R., & Johnson, M. W. (2019). Cessation and reduction in alcohol consumption and misuse after psychedelic use. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 33(9), 1088–1101. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881119845793
Impact on Substance Use Disorders
Garcia-Romeu, A., Davis, A. K., Erowid, E., Erowid, F., Griffiths, R. R., & Johnson, M. W. (2020). Persisting Reductions in Cannabis, Opioid, and Stimulant Misuse After Naturalistic Psychedelic Use: An Online Survey. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00955
Improved Physical Activity Levels and Diet
Ona, G., Kohek, M., Massaguer, T., Gomariz, A., Jiménez, D. F., Dos Santos, R. G., Hallak, J. E. C., Alcázar-Córcoles, M. Á., & Bouso, J. C. (2019). Ayahuasca and Public Health: Health Status, Psychosocial Well-Being, Lifestyle, and Coping Strategies in a Large Sample of Ritual Ayahuasca Users. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 51(2), 135–145. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2019.1567961