‘Behavioral psychedelics’ need focused research and treatment guidelines, researchers say

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As psychedelics find new legitimate roles in treatment for mental and behavioral issues such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction, they require developing rigorous, standardized methods to study and apply the results, according to a new study.

In the report, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, researchers from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Health and Harvard Medical School coin the term “behavioral psychedelics.” They defined this as “the study of psychedelics to foster intentional changes in habits and behaviors to improve health and resilience.”

Changing behaviors are key, according to researchers, as psychedelics may have the potential to reduce chronic disease risk caused by mental and behavioral rigidity. To fully realize this potential, though, they believe the field must establish best practices and guidelines that include how to induce lasting changes in behavior.

The study highlights the connection between behaviors and chronic illness, a major public health problem in the United States, and said most chronic diseases are not determined primarily by genetics but by behavioral factors such as diet, sleep, exercise, alcohol use, smoking, and acting in ways that create chronic stress.

According to the researchers, improving public mental and physical health must involve transforming how people behave. One emerging strategy for behavior change, they acknowledge, involves using psychedelic compounds to make the mind more malleable and open.

And while psychedelics-assisted psychotherapy may provide many health benefits and even cost savings, the study’s authors believe that the current therapeutic approach is poorly targeted. As a result, they present their behavioral psychedelics concept that is intended to focus on approaches for therapeutic change that help people achieve enduring functional improvements in self-care, social connection, and family, school, and community responsibilities to help them live the life they desire.

The study describes the general psychotherapeutic approach currently employed in trials as non-directive involving several phases: assessment, preparation, psychedelic experience, and post-dosing integration.

The authors said that further refinement is needed to operationalize and test these components to establish a best-practice standard of care for treating psychiatric, addiction, somatic, and behavioral health problems.

In conclusion, the authors recommend that work with psychedelics include behavior as a treatment target with measurable treatment metrics to establish best practices and guidelines. While psychedelics may help patients open their mind, it does not mean they will know how to change their behavior, researchers found. Behavioral psychedelics can address this by providing a structured, supportive framework to help patients learn how to live differently by replacing dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors with new skills that support healthier living.  Focusing on behavior will lead to more rigorous research on psychedelics but, most importantly, they said, it will also help change what is most responsible for maintaining chronic disease.