This drug therapy sounds far-out — but could be surprisingly effective for heavy drinkers.
A double-blind randomized clinical trial found that people with alcohol dependence who took a psychedelic compound found in “magic mushrooms” drank significantly less than those taking a placebo — and almost half stopped drinking alcohol altogether.
The research from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine published in JAMA Psychiatry on Wednesday found that two high doses of psilocybin, the hallucinogen found in psychedelic mushrooms, reduced heavy drinking by 83% on average among heavy drinkers when combined with talk therapy over 12 weeks.
The study involved 93 men and women with alcohol dependence, which is characterized by building up an alcohol tolerance, where one needs to drink more and more to achieve the same “high.” People with alcohol dependence also suffer withdrawal symptoms when drinking suddenly stops.
The researchers randomly assigned these men and women to either taking two doses of psilocybin, or taking two doses of an antihistamine placebo. All participants also received 12 psychotherapy counseling sessions before and after their drug treatments, and they provided hair and fingernail samples to confirm that they had not been drinking.. What’s more, neither the test subjects nor the researchers knew whether the participants were on the psilocybin or the placebo.
And eight months later, the men and women taking the psilocybin reduced their heavy drinking by 83% compared to how much they had consumed before the trial began. In comparison, those taking the placebo cut their drinking by 51%.
What’s more, almost half (48%) of those who took psilocybin stopped drinking altogether eight months after their first dose, compared with 24% of the placebo 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 and psychiatrist Dr. Michael Bogenschutz, the director of the NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine, in a statement.
It may sound like these researchers are trippin’, but in fact, a growing body of research suggests psychedelic drug therapy could be used to treat anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — and possibly help cigarette-smokers quit, too.
And last year, a team of more than 20 Citigroup strategists led by Michael Ashford included psychedelic drugs like psilocybin in a list of 10 innovative trends that could be “game changers” for society.
The Food and Drug Administration has also named psilocybin a “breakthrough” therapy for severe depression, but it should be noted that the substance is still illegal under federal law, outside of certain scientific research contexts.
But the state of Oregon has joined some U.S. cities — including Denver, Colo., and Oakland and Santa Cruz, Calif. — in decriminalizing psilocybin. And in 2020, Oregon became the first state to legalize the supervised use of psilocybin by licensed facilitators, which goes into effect next year.
Associated Press reporting contributed to this article.