Archive for Month: September 2021

On studying the psychological mechanisms of the (therapeutic) effects of psychedelics

This post provides extended discussion of and references for my poster-based talk given at the INSIGHT 2021 conference on September 10, 2021. My commentary published in Psychopharmacology also discusses some of these same issues and provides concrete suggestions for future research. This is a work in progress and may evolve over time.

2021-09-10 Samuli Kangaslampi,

Increasing evidence suggests that consuming psychedelic substances in some contexts may have therapeutic effects for some people. Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for depression has entered Phase 2 clinical trials (Carhart-Harris et al., 2021). Meanwhile, experimental, survey-based, and register-based studies suggest links between psychedelic consumption and some areas of well-being (e.g., Agin-Liebes et al., 2021; Jiménez-Garrido et al., 2020; Hendricks et al., 2015; Simonsson et al., 2021; Uthaug et al., 2019). In order to better understand and maximize possible therapeutic effects, it would be very useful to know how, through which psychological mechanisms, psychedelics or psychedelic-assisted therapy may have beneficial outcomes.

Indeed, research on the psychological mechanisms of the effects of psychedelics is increasing. A number of recent publications have suggested various mechanisms and pathways for beneficial effects (e.g., Davis et al., 2020, 2021; Forstmann et al., 2020; Kettner et al., 2021; van Mulukom et al., 2020, Roseman et al., 2018; Thiessen et al., 2018; Zeifman et al., 2020). However, there are some problems and pitfalls in approaches several recent studies have taken to analyzing such mechanisms. Many of these problems and unstated assumptions in mechanism research have previously been pointed out and discussed in other areas of research, especially psychotherapy and social psychological research. Here, I discuss the value, challenges, and best practices of providing convincing evidence for the psychological mechanisms of the possible therapeutic effects of psychedelics.

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