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Psilocybin Mushrooms Enhance Psychological Flexibility, Pilot Study Shows

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The active ingredient in psilocybin mushrooms is being explored for its power to break out of the grip of rigid mental patterns—patterns which often lead to treatment-resistant disorders. Researchers believe it could help to transform therapy by providing an alternative way to tackle mental disorders.

A recent pilot study published in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies has found preliminary evidence that psilocybin, when administered in a group retreat setting, can enhance psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility means being present in the moment and having the ability to respond to stimuli in ways that serve your values. 

The study, “A pilot study of the effect of group-administered psilocybin on psychological flexibility and outcomes,” was conducted by Brian Pilecki, Jason Luoma, and Kati M. Lear.

“I think group-based psilocybin administration is under-studied and has significant value in producing therapeutic change. I also am interested in using psychological flexibility as a way to understand how psychedelics exert their effects and lead to improvements in health and well-being,” study author Brian Pilecki of Portland Psychotherapy told PsyPost.

Nine participants—six female and three male—attended the retreat, ages ranging from 41 to 68. Nine participants were employed: four full-time and five part-time. Four participants endorsed having a regular meditation practice while five did not.

Researchers collected data using a series of assessments at three intervals: one week before the retreat, two weeks after the retreat, and six months later. These assessments utilized standardized questionnaires to measure psychological flexibility, cognitive fusion, values-driven behavior, self-compassion, emotional expressivity, and general well-being.

When asked what their highest dose psilocybin session taken during the retreat was, participants reported between five and 12 grams of dried, homogenized mushrooms, meaning that all participants had at least one “heroic” psilocybin session with a dose that was at least 5 grams.

The study narrowed down quantifiable changes in psychological flexibility rather than just recording any changes in psychological flexibility.

“This study is significant in that it is the first to quantitatively document changes in psychological flexibility facets after psychedelic experiences rather than only more general changes in psychological flexibility,” the study states. “Understanding processes of change involved in psychedelic-assisted therapy is important in informing how psychotherapy can support psychedelic experiences. For example, it might be possible to take steps during preparation to make it even more likely that people will experience cognitive defusion or values clarification during dosing sessions. Alternately, techniques based on psychological flexibility theory might be used to support changes in values that begin during dosing and translate these into long-term behavior change. We are just beginning to understand the link between psychedelics and psychological flexibility and hope this pilot study will spur future research on the topic.”

Psilocybin’s Efficacy to Decrease Cognitive Fusion of Rigid Thought Patterns

The data shows a substantial decrease in cognitive fusion—referring to the grip of rigid thoughts that alter behavior. This drop was significant at the two-week follow-up and persisted through the six-month evaluation, suggesting that participants were able to detach from their thoughts more effectively, allowing them to act more in line with their values rather than being prisoners shaped by habitual thought patterns.

Participants reported improvements in how freely they were able to live according to their values. This was evident from drops in “values obstruction” at both the two-week and six-month follow-up periods. Additionally, there was an increase in values progression by the six-month mark, indicating sustained improvements in the participants’ ability to engage in behaviors that align with their personal values over time.

Researchers also observed increases in self-compassion at both follow-up points, as well as changes in emotional expressivity.

“Our study supported that psilocybin taken in a retreat context can be helpful in enhancing key aspects of psychological flexibility including cognitive defusion, valued living, and self-compassion,” Pilecki told PsyPost. “These improvements suggest that client’s were able to take greater perspective on their thoughts and align their behaviors more closely with their values.”

The long-term benefits of psilocybin are being explored.

“Some of the differences between short- and long-term outcomes were surprising, though it is hard to infer much due to the small sample size,” Pilecki said. “For example, of all the processes that were measured, we found increases in self-compassion at the six-month follow-up suggesting that psilocybin may lead to enduring changes in one’s relationship to themself.”

As with many psilocybin-related studies, the control group size was very limited, suggesting that more research is needed to determine the fungi’s efficacy in treating mental disorders.

“This was a small pilot study without a control group, so results must interpreted with caution,” Pilecki noted. “However, positive results suggest further research in this area is warranted.”

Read the full article here

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