Psychedelics have long been a topic of fascination and controversy in the world of medicine. The National Library of Medicine recognizes the potential therapeutic benefits of these substances, particularly in the treatment of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Psychedelic drugs such as LSD show promising therapeutic benefits in the treatment of alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD)
Alcohol use disorder, commonly known as alcoholism, is a chronic and often debilitating condition where a person has a strong, uncontrollable urge to drink despite the negative consequences on their life. AUD can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or background, ranging from mild to severe. It can develop gradually or suddenly due to genetics, environment, and individual behavior.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an estimated 14.5 million adults (ages 18 and older) in the United States had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2019. This represents 5.8% of the population. Additionally, about 401,000 adolescents (ages 12-17) had AUD in 2019.
Although therapy, medication, and support groups are available for alcohol addiction, many people still struggle. Psychedelics may provide a new and life-changing option.
Psychedelics in the Treatment of AUD
A small, preliminary study by researchers at New York University and Johns Hopkins University involved giving psilocybin to 93 people with alcohol use disorder, and 12 psychotherapy sessions. The participants were randomly assigned to receive either two doses of psilocybin or a placebo. After eight months, over 80% of those who received psilocybin had reduced their drinking. In contrast, just over 50% of the control group who received the placebo had reduced drinking. At the end of the trial, half of those who received psilocybin had quit drinking altogether, compared to only about one-quarter of the control group.
Dr. Michael Bogenschutz, the study author, stated, “There’s really something going on here that has a lot of clinical potential if we can figure out how to harness it.”
Some of the commonly studied psychedelics in the treatment of alcohol use disorder are:
- Psilocybin (found in “magic mushrooms”)
- LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide)
- Ayahuasca (a brew from the Amazon)
- Ibogaine (derived from the root of the iboga plant)
- DMT (Dimethyltryptamine)
During the therapy sessions, patients are given a moderate dose of the psychedelic substance in a controlled setting, such as a therapist’s office or a clinical research setting. The patient is then encouraged to explore their thoughts and emotions while under the influence of the substance, with the guidance of a trained therapist.
After the therapy session, patients engage in integration therapy, which involves processing and making sense of the insights and experiences they had during the psychedelic experience. This process is facilitated by a trained therapist and is meant to help patients apply the insights and lessons from their psychedelic experience to their everyday lives.
How they work
The exact mechanisms by which psychedelics such as psilocybin may help with the treatment of alcohol use disorder are not fully understood and are the subject of ongoing research. However, it is thought that the drug may work by promoting neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize and form new neural connections. This may help individuals with alcohol addiction break free from negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with addiction and form new, healthier habits.
How they help
Some potential benefits of using psychedelics such as psilocybin to treat alcohol use disorder include:
- Reduced cravings and urges to drink
- Increased motivation and willingness to engage in treatment
- Greater self-awareness and insight into underlying issues that may contribute to addiction
- Improved mood and sense of well-being
- Enhanced neural plasticity, which may help individuals form new, healthier habits and break free from negative patterns of thought and behavior
- Greater spiritual or mystical experiences, which may provide a sense of purpose and meaning that can aid in recovery.
The Legal Status of Psychedelics in the United States
Psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, and DMT are illegal under federal law in the United States. They are classified as Schedule I drugs, meaning they are considered to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. some researchers have received special permission to study their potential therapeutic benefits in the treatment of various mental health conditions, including alcohol addiction.
The use of psychedelics in the treatment of alcohol addiction may seem unconventional. But, there is growing evidence that these substances could offer a new and potentially life-changing option for those struggling with addiction. However, more research is needed to fully understand their safety and efficacy as a treatment option.
Any use of psychedelics should be done under the guidance and supervision of a trained healthcare professional. With further research and clinical trials, psychedelics could become a mainstream treatment option for alcohol addiction and other mental health conditions.