Positive effects of psychedelics on depression and wellbeing scores in individuals reporting an eating disorder

Abstract

Purpose

Psychedelic therapy is showing promise for a broad range of mental health conditions, indicative of a transdiagnostic action. While the efficacy of symptom-focused treatments for eating disorders (EDs) is limited, improved mental health and psychological wellbeing are thought to contribute to greater treatment outcomes. This study provides the first quantitative exploration of the psychological effects of psychedelics in those reporting an ED diagnosis.

Methods

Prospective, online data were collected from individuals planning to take a psychedelic drug. Twenty-eight participants reporting a lifetime ED diagnosis completed measures of depressive symptomology (Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomology; QIDS-SR16) and psychological wellbeing (Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale; WEMWBS) 1–2 weeks before, and 2 weeks after a psychedelic experience. Twenty-seven of these participants also completed a measure of emotional breakthrough [Emotional Breakthrough Inventory (EBI)] in relation to the acute psychedelic experience.

Results

Bayesian t tests demonstrated overwhelming evidence for improvements in depression and wellbeing scores following the psychedelic experience. Marginal evidence was also found for a correlation between emotional breakthrough and the relevant mental health improvements.

Conclusion

These findings provide supportive evidence for positive psychological aftereffects of a psychedelic experience that are relevant to the treatment of EDs. It is hoped that this will encourage further research and will bolster initiatives to directly examine the safety and efficacy of psychedelic assisted therapy as a treatment of EDs in future clinical trials.

Level of evidence

Level III, cohort study.

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Fig. 1

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Code availability

The code used for analysis is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Eline Haijen, Lea Mertens, and Leor Roseman for assistance in survey design and data collection. We would also like to thank the psychedelic retreats that assisted in data collection, as well as Kenneth Jønck and Nicolai Lassen for creation of the online platform Psychedelic Survey are currently running new online survey studies. For more information, see www.psychedelicsurvey.com. This research was funded by the Ad Astra Chandaria Foundation and the funders of the Centre for Psychedelic Research (www.imperial.ac.uk/psychedelic-research-centre/funding-partners/).

Funding

This research was funded by the Ad Astra Chandaria Foundation and the funders of the Centre for Psychedelic Research (www.imperial.ac.uk/psychedelic-research-centre/funding-partners/).

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Correspondence to M. J. Spriggs.

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Ethical approval

All surveys received ethical approval from the Imperial College Research Ethics Committee and the Joint Research Compliance Office at Imperial College London and were conducted within the framework of Good Clinical Practice.

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Informed consent was obtained from all participants.

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Spriggs, M.J., Kettner, H. & Carhart-Harris, R.L. Positive effects of psychedelics on depression and wellbeing scores in individuals reporting an eating disorder. Eat Weight Disord (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-020-01000-8

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Keywords

  • Anorexia
  • Bulimia
  • Binge eating disorder
  • Prospective online survey
  • Longitudinal
  • Psychedelics