Psilocybin Dramatically Reduces Binge Drinking in Alcohol-Dependent People, Study Finds

Magic mushrooms

A report published in JAMA Psychiatry shows the potential for the use of psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic or "magic" mushrooms, in treating binge drinking.

Researchers from the Center for Psychedelic Medicine at NYU Langone reported that two doses of psilocybin, combined with psychotherapy, reduced heavy drinking by an average of 83% among heavy drinkers. The double-blind, randomized trial included 93 participants who were considered to be alcohol dependent, which is characterized by uncontrolled drinking and preoccupation with alcohol. The study was conducted over eight months. 

The researchers found that almost half of those who received psilocybin, 48% stopped drinking altogether after that period of time. That compares to 24% of participants who received a placebo.

According to the authors, the study marks the first placebo-controlled trial to explore psilocybin as a treatment for excessive alcohol consumption. 

Michael P. Bogenschutz, the director of NYU Langone's Center for Psychedelic Medicine, said the study findings "strongly suggest" that psilocybin therapy is a promising means of treating alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence. Bogenschutz noted that alcohol dependence has proven difficult to manage and is linked to significant economic losses and health issues. 

According to the CDC, excessive alcohol use leads to the death of approximately 95,000 Americans every year. Those deaths are primarily due to binge drinking or liver disease associated with heavy drinking. The university noted that current methods to prevent excessive alcohol use and dependency include psychological counseling, supervised detoxification programs and certain drug regimens that dampen cravings. 

The NYU Langone team noted in its JAMA Psychology paper that previous research had identified psilocybin as an effective treatment for anxiety and depression in cancer patients. An earlier study by Bogenschutz also suggested that psilocybin could serve as a potential therapy for alcohol use disorder and other addictions.

Patients who participated in the study received between one and three doses of psilocybin, a naturally occurring compound derived from fungi with mind-altering qualities, or an antihistamine placebo.

In the study, 48 patients received the psychedelic, and 45 received the placebo. All patients received up to 12 psychotherapy sessions. The placebo also appeared to have an impact on alcohol dependence. Those patients who also received antihistamines reduced their drinking by 51%.

Bogenschutz plans to conduct a larger study in coordination with Connecticut-based B.More, Inc., which submitted an Investigational New Drug Application to the FDA last month. The company intends to initiate a Phase IIb trial to determine the efficacy and safety of synthetic psilocybin (SYNP-101) in treating alcohol use disorder. Bogenschutz will lead that study.

He cautioned that more research needs to be conducted to understand this approach's risks, and his warnings echo calls made by other researchers assessing psychedelic treatments.

Katy Powell, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, told BioSpace in a previous interview that patient screening will play an essential role in the use of psychedelic-based therapeutics. But despite the need for caution, this therapy seems promising for various health-related issues, as the NYU Langone study indicates. 

"As research into psychedelic treatment grows, we find more possible applications for mental health conditions," Bogenschutz said. "Beyond alcohol use disorder, this approach may prove useful in treating other addictions such as cigarette smoking and abuse of cocaine and opioids."

In fact, earlier this year, a study published in Scientific Reports supported the use of psilocybin to treat opioid addiction. Data from that study showed that the use of psychedelics lowered the risk of opioid use disorder. 

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