WEDNESDAY, Aug. 24, 2022 (HealthDay News) — John Costas, a lifelong resident of New York City, started hitting bars at age 13. At the height of his alcoholism, he had up to 30 drinks a night.
Desperate for a way out, Kostas, 32, turned to a new therapy: psilocybin – psychedelic the compound is found in so-called “magic mushrooms”.
“It definitely made a difference in my life, and I would say it saved my life,” said Kostas, who underwent his first psilocybin treatment session in March 2015.
He is not the only one being helped. A new study suggests that psilocybin is better at helping alcoholics quit drinking than any current treatment.
Research reported that two doses of the drug combined with psychotherapy reduced alcohol consumption by an average of 83% among heavy drinkers.
“The treatment effects observed in our study were significantly larger than those reported in meta-analyses of approved treatments for alcohol use disorders,” said lead researcher Dr. Michael Bogenschutz. He is the director of the New York University Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine in New York.
The results were published online on August 24 JAMA Psychiatry.
NaltrexoneThe most commonly prescribed drug for alcohol use disorders has been shown to reduce the number of days of heavy drinking by about 5%, compared to a nearly 14% reduction seen with psilocybin in this study, Bogenschutz said during a media briefing on Wednesday.
Furthermore, the effects persisted over time. After 32 weeks, twice as many people who received psilocybin had stopped drinking completely compared to people in the control group who received an antihistamine placebo – 48% versus 24%.
“Remarkably, the effect of psilocybin treatment persisted for seven months after people received their last dose of the drug,” Bogenschutz said. “This suggests that psilocybin is treating the underlying disease of alcohol dependence rather than just treating the symptoms.”
This is the first published randomized trial examining the effects of psilocybin on any addiction, and it is larger than any previously published study involving psychedelics, Bogenschutz said.
Heavy drinking kills an estimated 95,000 Americans each year, often from binge drinking or liver damage, the researchers report in background notes.
But Kostas said the psilocybin treatment “acted almost like an antibiotic for me when I was sick or had a disorder.” He had no interest in trying psilocybin further after treatment.
“I participated in this clinical trial. I did therapy with psilocybin and left,” Kostas said. “My biggest expectations for this were to be able to handle my cravings, and it exceeded that. It eliminated all my cravings to the point of curing my alcoholism.”
For the study, scientists recruited men and women with a diagnosis of alcohol addiction. As a group, they averaged seven drinks a day; heavy drinking is defined as five or more drinks per day for a man or four or more drinks per day for a woman, Bogenschutz said.
The team gave one to three doses of psilocybin to 48 patients. Another 45 received a placebo.
During these sessions, all participants stayed with a pair of therapists in a comfortable room at the hospital. They were recommended to lie on the sofa, put on the covers and headphones with music.
All participants also received up to 12 sessions of psychotherapy before, between, and after drug treatment.
Participants were then asked to report their heavy drinking days. They also provided hair and nail samples to confirm that they had not been drinking.
The researchers say that most participants who received psilocybin experienced profound changes in perception, emotion and well-being. It involved an experience of great personal and spiritual significance.
During the eight-month study period, the proportion of heavy drinking days was 10% for the psilocybin group and 24% for the placebo group.
The average number of drinks per day also decreased for those receiving psilocybin, from more than five at baseline to about one at follow-up.
About 83% of patients who received psilocybin reported that they had reduced their alcohol consumption by the end of the study, compared with 51% in the placebo group.
Researchers aren’t sure why psilocybin might help a person fight their drinking habit. Psilocybin is known to interact with different types of brain receptorsany of which can affect a person’s desire to drink, Bogenschutz said.
In addition, psilocybin is known to “rewire” the brain, “increasing the brain’s ability to change and adapt,” he said.
“We can suggest that there is this extended potential for change, and it’s in context therapy desire to change and active efforts to change — such as quitting drinking — psilocybin can increase” a person’s chances of adaptation and growth, Bagenschutz said.
The research team plans to conduct a larger study involving several hospitals. The trial will be sponsored B.More Inc.non-profit psilocybin research company.
The Heffter Research Institute has more to say addiction treatment with psilocybin.
SOURCES: Michael Bagenschutz, MD, director, NYU Langone Center for Psychedelic Medicine, New York; John Costas, Research Fellow, New York; NYU Langone Media Briefing, August 24, 2022; JAMA PsychiatryAugust 24, 2022, online