Psilocybin appears to help people effectively reduce problematic alcohol drinking, according to a new study published by the American Medical Association (AMA).
The study, published in AMA’s Journal of the American Medical Association on Wednesday, sought to build upon earlier research suggesting that so-called magic mushrooms can be utilized in substance misuse treatment.
This randomized clinical trial involved 95 participants. The control group was given the anti-histamine diphenhydramine while others were administered psilocybin, the main active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms.
“Psilocybin administered in combination with psychotherapy produced robust decreases in percentage of heavy drinking days over and above those produced by active placebo and psychotherapy,” the study concluded. “These results provide support for further study of psilocybin-assisted treatment for [alcohol use disorder].
Specifically, the researchers found that, post-administration over a 32-week observation period, people who received psilocybin heavily drank at a rate of 9.7 percent, compared to the placebo group that drank heavily 23.6 percent of the time.
That mean difference, 13.9 percent, indicates that the psychedelic compound—combined with therapy—can have a profound impact on people who misuse alcohol.
What’s more, there “were no serious adverse events among participants who received psilocybin,” the study authors said.
“Although the mechanisms of psychedelic-assisted treatments remain unclear, the action of these drugs at the serotonin 2A receptor and downstream effects on neurotransmission, intracellular signaling, epigenetics, and gene expression appear to enhance plasticity at multiple levels, including neuronal structure, neural networks, cognition, affect, and behavior,” the study says.
One of the notable findings was the percentage of heavy drinking days between the psilocybin and diphenhydramine groups. Those who received the psychedelic treatment reported just 41 percent of the heavy drinking days that those who took diphenhydramine in the observed time period reported.
As the authors pointed out, this isn’t the first analysis to identify a relationship between psychedelic use and reduced dependence on alcohol. An earlier meta study of prior research that was released in the 1960s reached similar conclusions about the impact of LSD on alcohol use.
But amid the psychedelics reform movement, which has generated increased interest in the therapeutic potential of substances like psilocybin, this is a timely finding published in a prominent scientific journal.
“Building on the proof-of-concept study, this multisite randomized clinical trial evaluated the efficacy of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of AUD,” the authors said.
“In this randomized clinical trial in participants with AUD, psilocybin administered in combination with psychotherapy was associated with robust and sustained decreases in drinking, which were greater than those observed following active placebo with psychotherapy. These results provide support for further study of psilocybin-assisted treatment for adults with AUD.”
There are caveats and limitations identified in this latest study that should be noted. For example, in terms of safety, the authors strongly emphasized that the clinical trials were administered by health professions who were closely monitoring for, and could adjust for, adverse effects.
Additionally, the long-term impact of psilocybin on alcohol use disorder needs to be further studied, as the study only observed patient impacts up to 32 weeks.
A separate study published late last year found that use of psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and DMT is associated with a significant decrease in illicit opioid consumption.
And it’s exactly these kinds of studies that seems to be contributing to a recent trend where more young adults are experimenting with psychedelics, especially as more cities and states move to loosen laws around the substances.
A new federal survey has received significant media attention this week for showing the rapid rise in the use of psychedelics among young adults, which some officials say may be attributable to the increased media attention to the therapeutic potential of the substances. But the trend seems to be limited to adults, with other recent studies and surveys revealing that teen use of hallucinogens is down in recent years.
Taken together, the federally backed Monitoring the Future survey and a separate study published last week in the journal Addiction reveal similar trends: Psychedelics have been steadily gaining popularity among adults, while underage people are generally losing interest in hallucinogens like psilocybin.
Nora Volkow, the director of the NIDA, said earlier this year that “I think, to a certain extent, with all the attention that the psychedelic drugs have attracted, the train has left the station and that people are going to start to use it,” adding that “people are going to start to use it whether [the Food and Drug Administration] approves or not.”
The official talked about how recent, federally funded surveys showed that fewer college-aged adults are drinking alcohol and are instead opting for psychedelics and marijuana. She discussed the findings in an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment as well.
But federal prohibition has posed a problem to unlock the full potential of psychedelics research.
Officials at two agencies within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently acknowledged in a letter to two U.S. senators that federal prohibition makes it harder to study the benefits of psychedelics, requiring researchers to jump through additional regulatory hoops.
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.