New Study Finds That Magic Mushrooms Doubles The Chances Of Alcoholics’ Recovery
Alcoholism is one of the hardest addictions to treat.
After all, alcohol is completely legal and so easy to access everywhere. Drinking booze has become a socially acceptable way of dealing with stress and unwinding. But the truth of the matter is that alcoholism is a disease, just like any other kind of disease, yet it’s one that is difficult to treat and manage. People struggling with this kind of addiction feel extremely compelled to drink even if there are other ways to deal with stress.
However, they pose a risk to society as well as themselves. Alcoholism causes the brain to change in specific ways, and when one is drunk, alcohol takes over one’s body, making people hard to control. In addition, people with alcoholism are different: some people may feel the need to drink all day long, while others will binge drink twice or thrice a week.
But with some 95,000 people dying from alcohol-related deaths each year in the United States alone, it’s clear that this is a serious disease that we need to learn to treat. There are also three pharmaceutical drugs that are commonly used to treat alcoholism – but new medications for this condition haven’t been developed in almost 2 decades. Oftentimes, they just don’t work.
And it seems that magic mushrooms may just be the answer.
A new study that was published in JAMA Psychiatry found that psilocybin was effective in reducing heavy drinking by a whopping 83%. For the study, 93 alcohol-dependent patients were tasked to participate in 2 sessions that were four weeks apart. They were given either a placebo or psilocybin, but they didn’t know which ones they were given. Each session involved them laying on a couch with headphones and sunglasses, listening to music. They were also asked to undergo 12 psychotherapy talk sessions before they were given medications.
Around half of those who were given magic mushrooms quit drinking completely 8 months after being given their first dose. Meanwhile, 24% of those given placebo gave up alcohol.
This study is the “first, modern, rigorous controlled trial” testing the efficacy of psilocybin on alcoholism, explains Fred Barrett of the John Hopkins University.
“More parts of the brain are talking to more parts of the brain,” explains NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine’s Dr. Michael Bogenschutz, who oversaw the study. The authors explain that when psilocybin together with talk therapy is provided to alcoholic patients, this may be helpful in forging new connections in the brain which are pivotal to quitting bad habits. “There’s a possibility of really shifting in a relatively permanent way the functional organization of the brain,” Bogenschutz added.
“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,” Bogenschutz said.
“As research into psychedelic treatment grows, we find more possible applications for mental health conditions,” he says. “Beyond alcohol use disorder, this approach may prove useful in treating other addictions such as cigarette smoking and abuse of cocaine and opioids,” he adds.
According to Boris Heifets, a psychedelics student in Stanford who was not involved in the study: “Alcoholism is hard to treat, so any success is noteworthy,” he tells STAT News.
Mary Beth Orr, one of the study’s participants, disclosed to the Associated Press that prior to the study, she was having 5-6 drinks each night which would increase on the weekends. After the trial, she stopped drinking completely for 2 years though enjoys a glass of wine on occasion. “It made alcohol irrelevant and uninteresting to me,” she tells AP. “I am tethered to my children and my loved ones in a way that just precludes the desire to be alone with alcohol.”
Why Does Psilocybin Work So Well For Addiction?
So far, we know of no other pharmaceutical medication that works as well as magic mushrooms in addressing alcoholism dependence at the root: the brain.
There are some explanations as to how it works so well. “Alcohol essentially removes the executive-function brakes on the brain, leading to cravings, excessive use and tolerance,” explains Pamela Walters to Discover Magazine. Walters is a forensic and addiction psychiatry consultant as well as a director at Forward Trust. She adds that helping to break the patterns of consumption before it’s ingrained is key to successful treatment.
“One of the remarkably interesting features of working with psychedelics is they’re likely to have transdiagnostic applicability,” explains Roland Griffiths to Scientific American, lead of the John Hopkins’ Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research department. Griffiths has led several noteworthy studies on psilocybin for both alcoholism and depression. Griffiths adds that psychedelics help “peer into the basic neuroscience of how these drugs affect brain activity and worldview in a way that is ultimately very healthy.”
He was in charge of a foundational study from 2006 which revealed a single dose of psilocybin was safe and effective while providing positive effects as well as mystical experiences. One decade later, he and his team published the results of a randomized, double-blind study that showed how psilocybin was successful in reducing anxiety and depression among people with terminal cancer.
Psilocybin is truly magical in the way it harnesses the brain’s power to change old habits and create new ones. Those struggling with alcoholism, or who have loved ones who do, now have a promising new treatment that can save countless lives.