Magic mushrooms help addicts get rid of alcohol
The combination of psychotherapy and psilocybin reduces the drinking of people with alcohol addiction.
More and more research points to the therapeutic effect of hallucinogenic drugs, such as magic mushrooms and truffles. For example, previous experiments have shown that people with an alcohol addiction benefit from psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. A group of American researchers wanted to build on this and find out whether the psilocybin itself or the accompanying psychotherapy and sessions in which patients take the hallucinogenic drug contribute to the effect of the treatment.
To find out, they set up an experiment in which half of the subjects were treated with psilocybin and half with placebo, without the volunteers knowing in advance what they would receive. Nearly a hundred volunteers with an alcohol addiction took part.
All participants were offered a total of twelve psychotherapy sessions. After the first four sessions, they were allowed to participate in a meeting where they were given either a psilocybin capsule or a placebo. Those sessions lasted all day. The drug that was administered as a placebo was diphenhydramine, an allergy drug that also has a psychoactive effect. Possible side effects: drowsiness, nausea, and poor coordination. Both the subjects and the therapists who supervised the sessions did not know who received psilocybin and who received the placebo, a so-called double-blind study. After four more psychotherapy sessions, the participants could follow another session in which they were given a capsule.
During the study, the participants had to ask questions about their drinking regularly. When did they drink, and how much? They also recorded how often they drank a lot, ie more than four drinks per day for women and more than five for men. Eight months after the start of the study, the participants were questioned again about this.
After eight months, all participants managed to consume fewer drinks per day on average and there were fewer days when they drank a lot. The participants who received the psilocybin improved more than the participants who received the placebo.
Michiel van Elk, associate professor at Leiden University and author of the book A sober look at psychedelics, agrees with the researchers’ conclusion. ‘Psilocybin in combination with psychotherapy is more effective in combating alcohol addiction than psychotherapy alone.’
However, there is also a caveat to the study. Afterward, it turned out that about ninety percent of the participants knew whether they were receiving the placebo or the psilocybin. The therapists also always had about ninety percent of the participants by which means they were given. ‘Actually, only the first half hour of such a session is double-blind,’ says Van Elk. ‘After that, it is almost always immediately clear who got what. It is impossible to do otherwise in this kind of research.’ According to Van Elk, this may have effects on the results of the experiment. “The problem is that if you know you’ve been given a hallucinogen, you’re going to hope that you’re going to have a mystical experience or have positive expectations about the outcomes.
Van Elk explains how psilocybin can reduce drinking. ‘The effect works on three levels: psychological, biological, and pharmaceutical. On a psychological level, you can gain new experiences through mystical experiences and gain different perspectives on your addiction. This may make it easier to reduce. Psilocybin can also provide new connections in the brain that make new behaviors easier to learn. And on a pharmacological level, it ensures the production of certain substances that in turn have an effect on the production of new connections in the brain.’
American researchers and Van Elk believe that follow-up research can examine whether the effects are still intact after one or two years, for example. Van Elk: ‘Addictions and other psychological disorders often occur in cycles. The question is whether psychedelics can also prevent relapses. In addition, it is also important to see who exactly participates in these types of studies. For example, to what extent is it important that people have had previous good experiences with psychedelics? Or does it help if people have never come into contact with it?’
The findings are published in JAMA Psychiatry