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Psychedelic therapy with psilocybin may help treat alcohol addiction

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2022-08-30-Psychedelic therapy with psilocybin can help treat alcohol addiction

Two doses of psilocybin, a substance found in psychedelic mushrooms, in combination with psychotherapy, reduces heavy drinking by an average of 83 percent. That's according to a new study of heavy drinkers.

Led by researchers from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the study involved 93 men and women with alcohol dependence. They were randomly assigned to receive either two doses of psilocybin or an antihistamine placebo.

Psilocybin or placebo

Neither the researchers nor the study participants knew which medication they were taking or receiving. Within an 8-month period from the start of their treatment, those given psilocybin reduced heavy drinking by 83 percent from their alcohol consumption before the study. Meanwhile, those who had been given antihistamines reduced their drinking by 51 percent.

One of the other key findings was that 8 months after their first dose, nearly half (48 percent) of those given psilocybin stopped drinking altogether, compared to 24 percent of the placebo group.
“Our findings strongly suggest that psilocybin therapy is a promising tool to treat alcohol dependence, a complex disease that has proven notoriously difficult to treat,” said senior author and psychiatrist Michael P. Bogenschutz, MD, director of NYU Langone's Center for Psychedelic Medicine.

Alcohol Abuse in America

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that excessive alcohol consumption kills about 95.000 Americans each year, often due to binge drinking or liver disease. It's also been linked to massive economic and labor losses, injury accidents, and impaired learning, memory and mental health, says Dr. Bogenschutz, also a professor in NYU Langone Health's department of psychiatry. Current methods of preventing excessive alcohol use and dependence include psychological counseling, supervised detoxification programs, and certain drug regimens.

According to researchers, previous research had already established that psilocybin treatment is an effective means of alleviating anxiety and depression in people with the most severe forms of cancer. And previous research suggested that psilocybin could serve as a potential therapy for alcohol use disorders and other addictions.
The new study, published online Aug. 24 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, is the first placebo-controlled trial to investigate psilocybin as a treatment for excessive alcohol consumption, the study authors said.

Treatment of alcohol dependence and other addictions

For the study, the research team recruited men and women who had been diagnosed with alcohol dependence based on standard definitions and who drank an average of seven glasses on days when they drank. Forty-eight patients received at least 1 dose and up to 3 doses of psilocybin, and 45 patients received the antihistamine placebo.
All received up to 12 psychotherapy sessions. These took place both before and after administration. Afterwards, participants were asked to report the percentage of heavy drinking days they experienced during weeks 5 to 36 of the study. They also gave hair and fingernail samples to confirm they hadn't been drinking.

“As research into psychedelic treatments grows, we are finding more potential uses for mental illness,” says Dr. Bogenschutz. “In addition to alcohol use disorder, this approach may be useful in treating other addictions, such as cigarette smoking and cocaine and opioid abuse.”

More research necessary

dr. Bogenschutz says the research team plans to conduct a larger, multicenter study. He cautions that more work needs to be done to document the effects of psilocybin and clarify the correct dosage before the drug is ready for widespread clinical use. He notes that researchers have begun such trials.

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring compound derived from fungi, with mind-altering properties similar to those of LSD and mescaline. Most study participants experience profound changes in perception, emotions, and feeling, often including experiences deemed of great personal and spiritual importance. Because the drug increases blood pressure and heart rate and can sometimes cause overwhelming psychological effects, researchers caution that it should only be used in carefully controlled environments and in conjunction with psychological evaluation and preparation.

Source: nyulangone.org (EN)

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