Psychedelics Help People With Alcoholism Drink Less

A combination of psychedelics and therapy appears to help people with alcoholism cut down on the number of days per month they drink heavily, according to a new study. The Verge reports: Researchers used psilocybin, the psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms, to treat patients over eight months and saw a dramatic improvement in participants’ drinking habits. Using psychedelics as treatments for alcoholism was a popular idea in the 1960s and 1970s, and studies on LSD found that it reduced alcohol misuse. But the approach went quiet in the decades after, according to an editorial published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry alongside the new study.

The new research marks a “rekindling of interest,” the authors of the editorial wrote. The study included 93 people with alcohol dependence. In the 12 weeks leading up to the study, the participants drank alcohol an average of around 60 days. Of those 60 drinking days, about half were heavy drinking days — defined as five or more drinks a day for a man and four or more drinks in a day for a woman. People in the trial were randomly assigned to either take a capsule of psilocybin or an antihistamine twice over the course of the 36-week-long study. They had four sessions with therapists before the first time they took the drug, four sessions between the two drug doses, and four sessions after the second drug dose.

Everyone in the study started drinking less after the first four weeks of therapy — the percentage of heavy drinking days dropped from around half of all drinking days to around a quarter. But that number kept falling for the people who took psilocybin. After the end of the full study, they drank heavily on around 10 percent of the days when they drank. People who took the antihistamine were still drinking heavily on around a quarter of drinking days. The effects lasted for months after the second dose of the psilocybin, study author Michael Bogenschutz, a psychiatrist and director of the NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine, stressed during a press briefing. “This suggests that psilocybin is treating the underlying disorder of alcohol addiction rather than merely treating symptoms,” he said.

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