Two doses of psilocybin, a compound found in psychedelic mushrooms, reduces heavy drinking by 83% on average among heavy drinkers when combined with psychotherapy, a new study shows.
Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the investigation involved 93 men and women with alcohol dependence. They were randomly assigned to receive either two doses of psilocybin or an antihistamine placebo. Neither the researchers nor the study participants knew which medication they received. Within an eight-month period from the start of their treatment, those who were given psilocybin reduced heavy drinking by 83% relative to their drinking before the study began. Meanwhile, those who had received antihistamine reduced their drinking by 51%.
Among the other key findings, the study showed that eight months after their first dose, almost half (48%) of those who received psilocybin stopped drinking altogether compared with 24% of the placebo group.
“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 Michael Bogenschutz, MD, director of the NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that excessive alcohol use kills roughly 95,000 Americans every year, often due to binge drinking or liver disease. It is also linked to enormous economic and workplace losses, injury accidents, and impaired learning, memory, and mental health, says Bogenschutz, also a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. Current methods to prevent excessive alcohol use and dependency include psychological counseling, supervised detoxification programs, and certain drug regimens that dampen cravings.
According to study investigators, previous research had already identified psilocybin treatment as an effective means of alleviating anxiety and depression in people with the most severe forms of cancer. And earlier research by Bogenschutz and others suggested that psilocybin could serve as a potential therapy for alcohol use disorder and other addictions.
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