Pattern breaking: a complex systems approach to psychedelic medicine

Inês Hipólito*, Jonas Mago, Fernando E. Rosas, Robin Carhart-Harris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Recent research has demonstrated the potential of psychedelic therapy for mental health care. However, the psychological experience underlying its therapeutic effects remains poorly understood. This paper proposes a framework that suggests psychedelics act as destabilizers, both psychologically and neurophysiologically. Drawing on the ‘entropic brain’ hypothesis and the ‘RElaxed Beliefs Under pSychedelics’ model, this paper focuses on the richness of psychological experience. Through a complex systems theory perspective, we suggest that psychedelics destabilize fixed points or attractors, breaking reinforced patterns of thinking and behaving. Our approach explains how psychedelic-induced increases in brain entropy destabilize neurophysiological set points and lead to new conceptualizations of psychedelic psychotherapy. These insights have important implications for risk mitigation and treatment optimization in psychedelic medicine, both during the peak psychedelic experience and during the subacute period of potential recovery.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberniad017
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalNeuroscience of Consciousness
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • complex systems theory
  • psychadelics
  • psychological experience
  • entropic brain
  • free-energy principle
  • psychedelics


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