Psychedelics for eating disorders
Psychedelics for eating disorders

Can Psychedelics Help Treat Eating Disorders? - A New Study Shows Promise for New Therapies

Is psilocybin a new idea for treating people with eating disorders?

Posted by:
DanaSmith on Wednesday Aug 2, 2023

psychedelics for eating disorders

Can Psychedelics Help Treat Eating Disorders?


A New Study Says It’s Promising


Some 9% of the global population struggle with an eating disorder.


In the United States alone, around 30 million people have an eating disorder. These conditions vary, but include anorexia, binge eating, or bulimia. Anyone can struggle from an eating disorder, whether you are an athlete, veteran, young adult, or child. It chooses no one, but it can have drastic, and even fatal effects when left untreated. In fact, anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of any other kind of psychiatric disorder.


But eating disorders are not a condition of the body. These are a type of mental illness, most commonly co-occurring with depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, addiction, or obsessive-compulsive disorders. For this reason, treatment for eating disorders is similar to the recommended protocol for mental health conditions: therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist, and in some cases, medications.


Meanwhile, psychedelics are gaining momentum as effective treatment alternatives for many mental health issues – including those that are resistant to conventional treatment. So can psychedelics also help with eating disorders?

One study says – possibly.


In a new study, which also happens to be the first clinical research trial on the subject in the United States, researchers analyzed 10 women who were diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.


The women were given one dose of psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound in magic mushrooms which have been shown to help treat mental health conditions. Three months after, the participants were assessed again. Four out of 10 women reported a great improvement in their symptoms after the trial, so much so that they qualified for remission.


According to lead author Stephanie Peck, psilocybin also helped to reduce other symptoms including anxiety and worries about eating, food, and body image after a month that psilocybin was administered. Additionally, the participants generally found psilocybin to provide a meaningful experience, and 80% of them said that it was among the most meaningful experiences of their lives.


Interestingly, 90% of the women said that one dose was inadequate.


Whereas most of the psilocybin studies right now are focused on its ability to treat stubborn mental health conditions, it may actually be able to treat eating disorders as well. There is a great lack of studies and clinical trials focused on eating disorders right now, but things may change very soon, and we hope so – because eating disorders are notoriously hard to treat. In fact, many are left struggling with it for years, even decades.


But psychedelics, whose abilities to treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders even if pharmaceutical treatments and therapy have failed, may be the key here. After all, no other substance has been proven to help rewire the brain in the way that psychedelics have.


Can Australia Pioneer These Studies?


In 2022, the Australian Eating Disorders Research and Translation Centre was established with the purpose of helping treat over a million Australians who struggle with eating disorders. They have acknowledged that psilocybin may actually help. And thanks to the federal government, they are backed up by a $13 million grant over the course of four years to further study eating disorders.


Upon opening, they had 9 major project areas, one of which was given a $25,000 state grant by the government to study if psilocybin can help people rewire the way they think about their body. ABC News spoke to Claire Finkelstein, a researcher at the centre. “There’s currently lots of research happening into complex mental health conditions like depression and post traumatic stress and obsessive compulsive disorder.. but we haven’t had a study looking at body image disturbance and psilocybin, so this is a first,” she says.


Aside from psilocybin, MDMA could help too. A 2022 study shared in the Journal of Psychiatric Research involve examining data taken from a phase 3 double-blind study of 90 patients with an extreme case of PTSD. They were given MDMA over 18 weeks and during the clinical trial, they were also asked to undergo 3 90-minute long psychotherapy sessions, 3 8-hour long sessions involving either MDMA or placebos, and 9 90-minute long integrative psychotherapy sessions.

An Eating Attitudes Test was included in the screening tools, which looked for symptoms that were associated with eating disorders. Before treatment began, 13 participants met the criteria for significant problems related to body weight, eating, or dieting. Meanwhile, 28 more were at risk.


The researchers found that those who were given MDMA and placebo saw decreases in symptoms related to eating disorders, though the improvements were more significant in the group that took MDMA. “There was an apparent gender effect in that the reduction was primarily seen in women, who not only consisted of 63% of the sample but are known to have higher rates of EDs and their symptoms,” said the researchers.


While these studies have shown to be promising, little is still known of how psychedelics work in the body to help treat eating disorders.


What Others Are Doing


Compass Pathways is a mental health care company founded in 2016. While it was not established to be a psychedelics company, they are primarily driven to help patients with unmet needs. However, their very first study sought to understand how psilocybin affected patients with treatment-resistant depression. Following the positive results, they began their first phase 3 trial for psilocybin in 2022.


A feature by the Financial Times discusses Compass Pathways’ endeavors, including the development of synthetic psilocybin, and its use in trials analyzing how it can help treat anorexia such as those overseen by Stephanie Peck.


There are many other firms that are keen to study the possible therapeutic benefits of various psychedelic drugs on eating disorders.

Watch this space as we discuss upcoming studies in the future.





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