Dr. Michael Bogenschutz, a psychiatrist at UNM School of Medicine, said he is studying the use of psilocybin — the active psychedelic compound in many species of hallucinogenic mushrooms — for the treatment of alcohol abuse and addiction.
“There were a number of trials that had been done with LSD back in the early 1950s through 1970s that were pretty promising, but not entirely conclusive,” Bogenschutz said. “There was a growing body of literature exploring the effects of psilocybin in normal volunteers and also in patients with anxiety related to a cancer diagnosis.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, psilocybin is a fungus that, when ingested, can produce hallucinations for approximately 6 hours.
In a pilot study performed by Bogenschutz, a single group of participants was administered doses of psilocybin over a course of 12 weeks in 14 sessions.
“The safety of psilocybin in these clinical research settings was pretty well-established and based on the overall positive effects people were reporting, and reports of positive behavioral change,” Bogenschutz said. “It seemed it would be worth taking a look at psilocybin as a potential therapeutic agent.”
According to the study, the participants were recruited by local advertisements asking for individuals with alcohol dependence who were concerned about their drinking.
The participants included males and females, aged 25 to 65, who were diagnosed with active alcohol dependence and had had two or more heavy-drinking days in the past 30 days.
The study observed an improvement in the participants’ alcohol consumption after the first dose of psilocybin. After 36 weeks the participants’ drinking days had decreased by more than half on average, showing promise of the effectiveness of the treatment.
While there may be hope for the use of psilocybin to treat alcohol dependence, the study had a small sample size of 10 individuals, no control group, blinding or biological evidence of alcohol-dependency in the participants, according to the study.
Bogenschutz said that in order for a solid conclusion to be reached, more thorough research will have to be done in the future.
The medical community has expressed concerns about the ethics of using psilocybin as treatment due to possible abuse and harmful psychological effects, Bogenschutz said.
“Most people have been open to scientific study of whether these drugs could be beneficial,” Bogenschutz said. “Some people are more concerned, some people are less concerned about potential misuse of these drugs. They definitely can be misused; they’re not 100 percent safe, but the risks can be managed effectively.”
The study of this use of psilocybin is still in its early stages, but Bogenschutz said that if future research observes positive results, psilocybin may become a medication that could help treat alcohol dependence.
Fin Martinez is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FinMartinez.