Article image

Psychedelic drug therapy could help treat alcoholism

A new study led by the New York University (NYU) has found that two doses of psilocybin – the main psychoactive compound from hallucinogenic mushrooms – reduces heavy drinking by 83 percent on average (when combined with psychotherapy) among people suffering from alcoholism. This is the first controlled trial exploring psilocybin as a treatment for excessive alcohol consumption.  

According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol use kills nearly 95,000 Americans each year, frequently due to binge drinking or liver disease. Alcohol abuse has also been linked to enormous economic and workplace losses, injuries, and impaired learning, memory, and mental health. Current methods to treat alcohol dependency include psychotherapy, supervised detoxification programs, and drug regimens that reduce alcohol craving. 

To test the effect of psychedelic treatment on alcoholism, the researchers enrolled 93 participants of both genders, and randomly assigned them to receive either two doses of psilocybin or an antihistamine placebo. Within an eight-month period from the start of the treatment, those given psilocybin reduced heavy drinking by 83 percent, while those in the placebo group only by 51 percent. Moreover, 48 percent of those who received psilocybin stopped drinking altogether, compared with 24 percent of the control group.

“Our findings strongly suggest that psilocybin therapy is a promising means of treating alcohol use disorder, a complex disease that has proven notoriously difficult to manage,” said study senior author Michael Bogenschutz, the director of the NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine. 

“As research into psychedelic treatment grows, we find more possible applications for mental health conditions. Beyond alcohol use disorder, this approach may prove useful in treating other addictions such as cigarette smoking and abuse of cocaine and opioids.” 

More research is needed to document psilocybin’s effects and find the appropriate dosages before the treatment will be ready for widespread clinical use. Moreover, since this drug raises blood pressure and heart rate and can cause overwhelming and sometimes debilitating psychological and emotional effects, it should only be used in clinical settings in conjunction with psychological evaluation and preparation. 

The study is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.  

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer  

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day