New Psilocybin Study Shows the Psychedelic Helps Fight Alcoholism

“It made alcohol irrelevant and uninteresting to me,” says one of the participants in the double-blind randomized clinical trial

Psilocybin, the chemical that makes certain species of mushrooms “magic,” is making headlines again as a new study shows that the psychedelic drug can help reduce alcohol dependency in users.

Published in JAMA Psychiatry Wednesday, the results of the latest scientific investigation of the hallucinogenic alkaloid’s benefits found “psilocybin administered in combination with psychotherapy produced robust decreases in the percentage of heavy drinking days compared with those produced by active placebo and psychotherapy.”

A total of 93 participants ages 25 to 65 with a diagnosis of alcohol dependence were offered 12 weeks of psychotherapy in the double-blind randomized clinical trial, in which subjects were randomly assigned to receive either psilocybin or diphenhydramine, the placebo, during two day-long medication sessions at weeks 4 and 8.

Researchers were testing if psilocybin-assisted treatment improves drinking outcomes in patients with alcohol use disorder (AUD), and early indications seem to say yes.

“The percentage of heavy drinking days during 32 weeks of follow-up was significantly lower in the psilocybin group than in the diphenhydramine group,” wrote the study’s authors, medical doctors Michael P. Bogenschutz, Stephen Ross and Snehal Bhatt.

“Although classic psychedelic medications have shown promise in the treatment of alcohol use disorder, the efficacy of psilocybin remains unknown,” they added. “These results provide support for further study of psilocybin-assisted treatment for AUD.”

One of the participants, 69-year-old Mary Beth Orr, told the Associated Press that she was consuming five or six drinks every evening before enrolling in the study in 2018. “The quantity was unacceptable and yet I couldn’t stop,” she said. “There was no off switch that I could access.”

Since undergoing two psilocybin dosing sessions and 12 talk therapy sessions in the clinical trial, she stopped drinking entirely for two years, and now has an occasional glass of wine.

“It made alcohol irrelevant and uninteresting to me,” Orr said of the psilocybin, which she credited for her recovery more than the talk sessions. “I am tethered to my children and my loved ones in a way that just precludes the desire to be alone with alcohol.”

Matthew Johnson, a Johns Hopkins University psychedelic researcher who wasn’t involved in this particular study, told NBC News that these results are “really in line with accumulating evidence that psilocybin and other psychedelics that work in a very similar way in the brain can be effective in treating different types of addiction.”

The “other psychedelics” he’s referencing include LSD, MDMA, ketamine, ayahuasca, mescaline, and DMT—all of which are starting to be seen as more beneficial than controversial these days, with other studies finding psychedelic medicines can help reduce depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction.

A decade before psychedelics exploded into mainstream American consciousness in the mid 1960s, researchers were already studying the effects of psychedelics on alcoholism. As a recent Los Angeles cover story noted: “tens of thousands of people volunteered to participate in psychedelics-assisted experiments, including Ethel Kennedy, wife of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who reportedly underwent LSD treatment for her alcoholism.”

But President Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs” reclassified most of these once-legal chemical compounds as Schedule 1, which prevented further research for decades. Lately, however, a psychedelic renaissance has flourished, as evidenced by a mountain of new studies emerging from around the world, as well as news media embracing the positive results of these studies, while streaming giants like Netflix—especially with its recent miniseries, How to Change Your Mind—Hulu and Amazon release content exploring the increasingly popular subject.

The tide of public opinion has turned so much in favor of psychedelics that California lawmakers are even considering decriminalizing this class of drugs. Senate Bill 519 was approved in the state Senate last year, but has since been placed on the legislative back burner, currently awaiting advancement in the Assembly.

Meanwhile, California’s northern neighbor Oregon has already legalized psilocybin, and that policy will roll out this January.

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