By Adele Lafrance, PhD & Reid Robison, MD
This article was published in the Gurze – Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalouge on January 23, 2021.
Clinicians working with eating disorders are well aware that these conditions can be the most difficult to treat. The stakes are high, as millions of individuals are affected, they have a significant impact on quality of life, and they can be lethal in some cases. While there are a variety of promising treatment options, despite everyone’s best efforts—clinicians, clients, and families alike—too many individuals continue to suffer, even after several courses of treatment. Pharmacotherapy options for eating disorders are also lacking—anorexia nervosa has no Food and Drug Administration–approved medications, and bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder each have only one recognized option (fluoxetine and lisdexamfetamine, respectively). In severe and enduring cases of eating disorders, palliative care approaches are even considered. There exists an urgency to continue to develop treatment modalities to help address these unmet needs.
There has been a remarkable resurgence of research in the past two decades that supports the therapeutic use of psychedelic medicines in the treatment of emotion-based disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, and addictions, to name a few. Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is emerging as a promising new treatment paradigm, in which the use of psychedelics, paired with psychotherapy, has the potential to yield significant breakthroughs for individuals with difficult-to-treat mental health conditions, including eating disorders. A number of psychedelic clinical research studies for eating disorders are in preparation or have begun, including emotion-focused ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (EF-KAP) for anorexia nervosa (Cedar Psychiatry by Novamind), psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for anorexia nervosa (Johns Hopkins University; Imperial College London; University of California, San Diego), and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for anorexia nervosa and for binge eating disorder (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies).