Magic mushrooms plus psychotherapy can quell heavy drinking, study shows

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Magic mushrooms plus psychotherapy can quell heavy drinking, study shows

Giving psilocybin — the psychedelic substance found in magic mushrooms — to patients with alcohol use disorder, along with psychotherapy, helped reduce heavy drinking more than psychotherapy alone, new research shows. Photo by Shots Studio/Shutterstock

Adding psychedelics to psychotherapy helped treat adults’ heavy drinking problem more than psychotherapy alone, a study published Wednesday says.

Giving high-dose psilocybin — the psychedelic, mind-altering compound found in magic mushrooms — twice to patients with alcohol use disorder, combined with psychotherapy, helped reduce the number of heavy drinking days more than a placebo medication and therapy.

And eight months after their first dose, 48% of the study’s participants who received psilocybin stopped drinking completely.

That’s the gist of research findings published in JAMA Psychiatry.

These results provide support for further study of psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder, according to the research team led by Dr. Michael P. Bogenschutz, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

Bogenschutz also is director of the NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine, where he has studied psilocybin for the past decade.

The investigators said that although classic psychedelic medications have shown promise in treating alcohol use disorder, the efficacy of psilocybin is just being studied now.

During a press conference in New York on Wednesday, Bogenschutz described alcohol use disorder as a very serious, undertreated problem — and said the effectiveness of current medications and psychotherapies, unlike psilocybin, tends to be minimal and don’t work for many patients.

He was joined at the press conference by two study participants whose treatment with the new regimen was successful.

Jon Kostas, a middle-aged man who said he went to his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at age 16 and described his drinking problem as treatment-resistant, said of the NYU psilocybin study: “It definitely affected my life. I think it saved my life.”

Paul Mavis, who said he’d been drinking for four decades, but decided he needed help in 2018, described his participation in the study as “a game changer in every single way.”

Neither had ever used psychedelics, they said. And neither found the experience something they wanted to repeat.

“This was the exact opposite of a ‘high’ … a very profound thing” that should be conducted under medical supervision, Mavis said.

“It’s tough work, and I think that’s why it works so well,” Kostas said of being treated with psilocybin.

Psilocybin “definitely alters people’s subjective experience,” said lead researcher Bogenschutz. But this may be quite pleasant or highly disorienting.

“You can’t just say, ‘I want to feel good, I’m going to use psilocybin,'” he said. “It’s definitely strongly mind-altering, but not a ‘feel-good’ drug.”

Other researchers are trying to determine the psychedelic substance’s usefulness in treatment for other woes.

In February, Johns Hopkins Medicine reported that two doses of psilocybin was effective in easing the symptoms of major depressive disorder for most patients for up to one year.

Johns Hopkins, which runs the Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research, is recruiting for a new study to investigate whether psilocybin can help people with depression who drink regularly.

The NYU-led study was a double-blind, randomized clinical trial offering participants 12 weeks of psychotherapy, and randomly assigning them to receive either psilocybin or diphenhydramine, an antihistamine medication, during two day-long medication sessions at weeks four and eight.

In the first session, people were given 25 milligrams per 70 kilograms of psilocybin or 50 mg. of diphenhydramine. In the second session, they received 25 to 40 mg. per 70 kg. of psilocybin, or 50 to 100 mg. of diphenhydramine.

Alongside this, they received motivational enhancement therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.

The investigators followed up with participants to assess their outcomes over a 32-week, double-blind period after the first dose of medication.

They found the percentage of heavy drinking days over the 32 weeks was 9.7% for the psilocybin group and 23.6% for the diphenhydramine group. Also, daily alcohol consumption — the number of standard drinks per day — also was lower in the psilocybin group.

And they found no serious side effects among the people who received psilocybin.

The study included 93 adults 25 to 65 years old who had been diagnosed with alcohol dependence and had at least four heavy drinking days during the 30 days before screening.

It excluded people who had major psychiatric and drug use disorders, hallucinogen use, medical conditions that wouldn’t allow the use of the study’s medications and those in treatment for alcohol use disorder.

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