More than 80 percent of participants in a new study were able to overcome their alcoholism after taking a psychedelic drug like LSD or magic mushrooms, suggesting that these mind-altering substances could have a key role to play in the treatment of addictions.
The therapeutic potential of psychedelics has captured the attention of the scientific community over recent years, with several studies indicating that they may be effective at treating depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a range of other psychological conditions. And while early research conducted in the 1950s and 1960s showed that certain psychedelics may also facilitate recovery from addiction, further exploration of the topic had until now remained frozen due to legal restrictions on the use of these substances.
Picking up where this previous generation of scientists had left off, a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University conducted an online survey of people with a history of alcohol use disorder (AUD) who had reported a reduction in drinking after using psychedelics at home.
A total of 343 people replied to the survey, 38 percent of whom said they had managed to reduce their drinking after using LSD, while 36 percent claimed to have decreased their alcohol consumption after taking psilocybin – the active compound in magic mushrooms.
Appearing in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the study describes how respondents had been struggling with alcoholism for an average of seven years prior to their psychedelic experience, with 72 percent qualifying for a severe AUD diagnosis. After their psychedelic trip, however, an incredible 83 percent no longer met the criteria for AUD of any kind.
While the authors can’t say exactly how these substances help to alleviate alcoholism, the most common explanation given by respondents was that their cravings became much more tolerable after using psychedelics. The biological and neurological mechanisms for this effect remain unknown, although given that psychedelics bind to serotonin receptor sites in the brain, it is possible that this key neurotransmitter may be somehow responsible for this reduction in cravings.
Results also showed an interesting correlation between the intensity of the mystical or spiritual nature of a psychedelic experience and the improvement in AUD symptoms. The study authors find this intriguing, and note that the most successful addiction treatment modalities – such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-Step programs – place a heavy emphasis on spirituality. What’s even more curious is that, according to the authors, AA co-founder Bill Wilson once participated in a clinical study of LSD in the 1950s, and supposedly described this experience as comparable to the spiritual awakening to which he attributed his own sobriety.
It is important to note that self-reporting questionnaires such as this have numerous limitations, and the data presented in this study should not be regarded as evidence that psychedelics can cure alcoholism. However, with an ever-increasing body of scientific literature now pointing to the potential of these substances to facilitate recovery from addiction and other psychological disorders, it seems there is a strong case for investigating the topic further.