Psilocybin may help overcome alcohol use disorder (AUD)

alcohol use disorder

Summary: Heave drinking, binge drinking, and AUD are significant social and health problems. Many people struggle to say no to alcohol despite realizing the ill effects of heavy drinking. Psychotherapy is one of the effective and safe ways to manage the condition, as it helps rewire the brain and alter the thinking pattern. Now a new study shows that using psilocybin along with psychotherapy may have much higher benefits. After such a treatment, people are almost twice more likely to abstain from alcohol and report a significant decline in cravings.

Alcohol is widely consumed in the US. About 80% of all adults drink alcohol now and then, and some of them consume it quite frequently. However, some people start engaging in excessive alcohol consumption, which is harmful to health.

According to the CDC, binge drinking is having four or more drinks on a single occasion. And heavy drinking means having eight or more drinks.

Excessive and irresponsible alcohol use is a significant problem in the US. Moreover, this problem is quite common in young adults. It is among the leading cause of death in young adults. AUD causes 140,000 deaths each year, and it also causes significant disability and economic harm.

Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound from magic mushrooms widely used for its trippy effect. It causes hallucinations. Yes, it remains a controversial compound for clinical use. It is still a substance of abuse, and FDA does not allow its clinical use. However, FDA allows its use for clinical studies.

Researchers have been experimenting with psychedelics for more than half a century to treat various mental health issues.

However, they have recently discovered how to use these agents safely and effectively. They understood that these agents are only suitable for use under medical supervision and for the short term. They work at lower dosages and are more effective when combined with psychotherapy.

When combined the psychotherapy, they help rewire the brain quickly. Their effect is unlike other medical drugs that take a long time to start acting and have a short-lasting action. Instead, psychedelics work fast and may provide long-lasting relief due to improved brain rewiring. They are especially good for managing mood disorders like depression.

However, now a new study confirms that they can be pretty good for managing substance abuse disorders like AUD.

In a new study published in the journal JAMA, researchers compared the effectiveness of psilocybin with diphenhydramine, a kind of antihistamine with a sedative effect and known to lower cravings. The study found that when combined with psychotherapy, psilocybin is much better and has a long-lasting effect.

Researchers say that what has amazed them is the persistent effect of psilocybin. Though the study was small and had a sample size of only 100, the findings were quite surprising. They found that psilocybin was almost twice more effective compared to diphenhydramine.

In the study, researchers divided participants into two equal groups. Both groups received 12 psychotherapy sessions over 12 weeks. However, one group received two dosages of psilocybin and the other group, diphenhydramine, as a placebo. They tracked the patients for six months.

At the end of the study, they found that just by adding two doses of psilocybin, the effect of psychotherapy increased considerably. Thus, after six months, about 10% still reported drinking heavily. However, these numbers were almost 25% in the diphenhydramine group.

What is impressive is that in the psilocybin group, twice as many participants stopped drinking altogether, 48% vs. 24%. They said that they had reduced cravings for alcohol after a psilocybin treatment. Those who stopped drinking said they did not consider themselves alcoholics anymore.

Researchers then went further and offered a third dose of psilocybin to study participants at the end of the six-month study. They said that after this dosage, many more reported benefits.
Researchers say they are very encouraged by their findings, and study results surpass their expectations. Moreover, psilocybin did not cause any side effects, and yet it had a prolonged benefit.
Researchers say that they are now planning more extensive study. They are planning a 3-year study with more than 200 participants. And they also plan to have participants from diverse backgrounds. Nevertheless, researchers think that psilocybin appears to be a real breakthrough in managing AUD.

Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP

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