Anorexia nervosa is a serious psychological illness that affects one in every 250 Americans, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. With around 5% of the population suffering from eating disorders and anorexia nervosa having the highest mortality rate among all psychiatric diseases, finding effective treatments is critical.
Psychedelics have shown promise in the treatment of a variety of mental illnesses. Could they provide a answer for treating eating problems? We’ve gone through some of the many psychedelic medicines and how they may assist with eating disorder therapy below.
What Are Eating Disorders?
Anorexia nervosa is a condition in which an individual has a distorted body image and believes that he or she is fat even when they are underweight. An eating disorder is one of many mental health problems associated with the DSM-V’s Eating Disorders chapter. In this article, I’ll explain what eating disorders are and how they can be treated.
- Anorexia Nervosa: not eating enough food, overexercising, or doing both
- Binge-Eating Disorder: overeating on a regular bases
- Bulimia Nervosa: eating large quantities of food and then compensating for the overeating, such as throwing up or taking laxatives
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID): avoiding certain foods, having restricted food intake or both
- Other specified eating or feeding disorder (OSFED): An eating disorder that doesn’t fit in with the expected symptoms of the eating disorders listed above
The Beat website also includes a complete description of each form of eating problem, as well as where to get help.
Eating Disorder Prevalence
According to studies, eating disorders affect around 8.4% of women and 2.2% of men throughout their lives. Adolescence is a time when eating problems are particularly common, affecting 5.8 percent of 11-18-year-olds.
Binge-eating disorders and anorexia nervosa are among the most prevalent eating problems, whereas binge-eating syndrome and bulimia nervosa are among the least frequent.
Biological Mechanisms and Current Treatments
What causes eating disorders is largely a mystery, and there are likely a variety of psychological, biological, and social causes.
Changes in the brain that may be involved in eating disorders are possible. An increase or decrease in neurotransmitters and hormones that control appetite and mood might result in concerns surrounding hunger and thoughts and feelings about food.
Increased activity in regions of the brain connected with control and decreased activity in areas related to pleasure were also seen. People who have an eating problem might become more controlling over their food intake, and they may experience less enjoyment from food as a result of these brain changes.
Those with eating disorders have a limited capacity for change in their thoughts and actions, which might be referred to as cognitive flexibility. A person’s lack of cognitive flexibility causes him or her to develop fixed and restricting eating habits.
Eating disorder patients often work with a dietician, who helps them develop a nutritious, balanced diet while they pursue healing.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is used in treating eating disorders. CBT focuses on helping clients modify undesirable thoughts and beliefs. Eating disorder patients may work with a dietician, who helps them develop a healthy, balanced diet while they strive to get healthier weight and may assist them in moving toward a more healthy weight.
There are no exclusive medications for eating disorder sufferers. Patients with an eating problem who also have other psychological problems, such as depression or anxiety, may be prescribed antidepressants or antianxiety medication.
How Might Psychedelics Help?
Psychedelic therapy has been found to be effective in treating a variety of mental disorders. Eating problems are frequently connected with depression and anxiety, thus psychedelic therapy’s antidepressant and antianxiety effects might assist eating disorder patients with depressive and anxious symptoms.
On a biological level, psychedelics might boost cognitive flexibility, allowing individuals with eating issues to more readily alter their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors around food. Psychedelics may potentially influence some of the brain activity changes linked with eating problems as they can elicit changes in brain activity.
Psychedelics and Their Potential for Treating Eating Disorders
Ketamine for Eating Disorders
Ketamine is an anaesthetic that has been used for many years. Researchers have recently taken a keen interest in the use of ketamine in the treatment of mental illnesses. Much of the scientific interest in using ketamine for mental health therapy has originated from evidence indicating that intravenous injection can quickly enhance treatment-resistant depression.
Compulsive behavior is one of the most typical symptoms of eating disorders. Throwing up after a meal, for example, is a compulsive action that does not provide any pleasure or reward. Over three weeks of repeated ketamine infusions, participants with eating problems showed decreased compulsive behavior in one study, indicating how ketamine therapy might be used to help manage it.
A ketogenic diet and repeated ketamine infusions therapy resulted in full remission of anorexia nervosa in a woman who had struggled with the illness for over fifteen years.
MDMA for Eating Disorders
MDMA is a psychoactive chemical sometimes known as “Molly” or “Ecstasy,” which is associated with dance clubs and rave parties. MDMA therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Eating disorders can develop as a coping mechanism to past trauma. MDMA psychotherapy might assist patients in finding trauma coping strategies that don’t rely on restricting their eating and weight.
A second phase-two clinical trial sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is examining the use of MDMA in Anorexia Nervosa Restricting-Type and Binge Eating Disorder patients. Psychotherapy sessions will be provided, as well as family therapy sessions. The study’s link can be found at the bottom of the page.
Psilocybin Therapy for Eating Disorders
Psilocybin is the psychoactive component in magic mushrooms, and it produces classic psychedelic effects such as altered time perception and space awareness as well as visual hallucinations. It has shown promise in treating a variety of psychological problems, including depression, anxiety linked with end-of-life situations, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Obsessive thoughts and compulsive and repetitive behaviors are common among persons with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and those who suffer from eating disorders. The psilocybin treatment for OCD demonstrates how it might be a useful therapy for eating problems.
Psilocybin may help patients with eating problems by reducing activity in the default-mode network (DMN), a set of connections in the brain linked to rumination. Rumination is when you’re stuck inside a single idea or set of ideas, and it’s a common symptom of eating disorders. By decreasing DMN activity, psilocybin could assist with rumination reduction ineating disorder sufferers.
Ayahuasca for Eating Disorders
The Ayahuasca brew is made with the Banisteriopsis cappi vine, which contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors, and the chacruna shrub, which contains DMT. When these plants are combined, people may experience out-of-body experiences and see otherworldy beings.
Ayahuasca is increasingly popular among Westerners who visit South American nations to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies for spiritual, self-improvement, and healing goals.
Throughout history, various civilizations in South America have utilized ayahuasca. As more people travel to South American countries to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies for spiritual, personal growth, and healing purposes, it becomes increasingly popular in the Western world.
In a study of thirteen eating disorder patients, an interview study examined the impact of ceremonial ayahuasca. The following were some of the most frequently reported side effects of ayahuasca in the patients:
- Rapid reductions in eating disorder thoughts and symptoms
- The root cause of the eating disorder was addressed
- Ayahuasca helped patients to process painful feelings and memories
- Improved self-love and self-acceptance
Bottom Line on Psychedelics for Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are an umbrella term that refers to a variety of distressing thoughts and actions regarding food and eating that are driven by a varied and complex combination of psychological and biological causes.
There is evidence that psychotherapy with various psychedelics can help those suffering from eating disorders. Although there is just a little evidence, the high incidence and mortality rate of eating problems make finding new treatments critical, therefore it’s essential this area of study continues.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, go to the Beat website (below) for more information on where and how to get assistance.