Overcoming any form of addiction is no easy feat, but alcohol addiction is one of the most dangerous forms. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that excessive alcohol consumption kills ~95,000 Americans per year, often connected to binge drinking or liver disease. A new study from researchers of NYU Langone Health and the School of Medicine shows promise in addressing this. Their research shows that just two doses of psilocybin, a naturally-occurring drug found psychedelic mushrooms, reduces heavy drinking by roughly 83% in heavy drinkers in conjunction with psychotherapy.
Previously, studies have shown promising results with psilocybin when it comes to easing anxiety and depression in people suffering from late-stage cancer. The growing body of research gives scientists reason to believe the drug can also help treat alcohol abuse.
This study included 93 men and women who were dependent on alcohol. They were randomly assigned to take psilocybin or an antihistamine placebo, ensuring neither the participants nor researchers knew which medication was being administered. Each participant attended up to 12 therapy sessions that took place both pre- and post-treatments.
Afterwards, the participants were asked to report the percentage of their heavy drinking days starting after the first month up until the eighth. Since this only relied on participant honesty, they also were asked to provide hair and fingernail samples to confirm their habits. All participants were then offered a third session of psilocybin specifically for those that had a placebo before so that they could experience the drug.
It was after an eight-month period that the team noticed the most staggering results regarding the huge reduction in in drinking frequency. Equally fascinating is that those who received the placebo also saw a 51% reduction in their drinking.
“Our findings strongly suggest that psilocybin therapy is a promising means of treating alcohol use disorder, a complex disease that has proven notoriously difficult to manage,” says study senior author and psychiatrist Dr. Michael Bogenschutz, director of the NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine, in a statement.
Bogenschutz also points out that not only does excessive alcohol increase risk of death by disease or overdose, but it also can lead to alcohol-related car accidents, loss of job, stunted learning, memory, and lowered mental health. He is pleased with these results, hoping that the findings support a new approach to resolving alcohol abuse.
He also warns that psychedelics should be vigorously tested before widespread use, but that researchers have already begun doing so in clinical trials. “As research into psychedelic treatment grows, we find more possible applications for mental health conditions,” he says. “Beyond alcohol use disorder, this approach may prove useful in treating other addictions such as cigarette smoking and abuse of cocaine and opioids.”
This study is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.