Study Aims To Determine Role of Shrooms in Battling Alcoholism


A study based in Canada aims to shed light on the potential for psilocybin’s role in battling the beast that is alcohol addiction. Researchers associated with the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada started to recruit 128 patients to embark on the largest single-site trial of its kind in Canada to find out.

Psilocybin will be sourced from mushrooms by Burnaby, British Columbia-based Filament Health, by workers who extract psilocybin and put it into capsule form. The trials earned an exemption from Health Canada in order to use a controlled drug that remains illegal at the federal level.

The current system isn’t working: About 70% of individuals struggling with alcoholism will relapse at some point, and furthermore, the percentage of alcoholics who recover and stay sober is about 35.9%, or around one-third. (The good news is the longer an individual is sober, his or her chances of full sobriety skyrocket.) The fact of the matter is that family intervention simply doesn’t work statistically, and that forcing someone into rehabilitation rarely works—at least, not without an alternative approach.

The Calgary Herald reports that the goal is to determine if administering psilocybin will enhance the effect of psychotherapy sessions for those with alcohol use disorder (AUD). People have been exploring the role of shrooms in battling AUD since at least the 1960s, when the topic began appearing in books.

“What’s new is taking a scientific approach to demonstrate it has an impact,” said Dr. David Hodgins, a professor of clinical psychology at the U of C’s faculty of arts. “There are a lot of beliefs about what the possibilities are—it would be really nice to see the science there.”

Participants will undergo about an hour of psychotherapy, which would be followed by a psilocybin session lasting five to six hours, according to Dr. Leah Mayo, principal investigator and Parker Psychedelic Research chair at the Cumming School of Medicine.

“It’s what you’d think of a psychedelic trip—the visuals, the profound insights,” said Mayo, adding that patients would receive another psychotherapy session afterward. “It is going to be done in a very controlled environment with a trained therapist.”

Patients will undergo a total of 16 weeks of follow ups after their dosing session and researchers hope to have results by the end of the year.

“They can open up a therapeutic window of opportunity—the brain becomes more elastic, people are open and more receptive,” she said. “Cognitive flexibility is staying out of that rigid thinking and becoming more adaptable.”

The current approach, which isn’t working well, “is a more confrontational approach, this model (we’re using) avoids confrontation,” said Hodgson. “It’s a process that encourages a lot of self-reflection—if people identify and focus on the reasons they want to make changes in their lives, they’re much more likely to succeed.”

Researchers hope to create a standardized protocol that can be applied by other researchers and, perhaps eventually, be used on a larger scale to help people battling alcoholism.

It’s psilocybin’s power to increase cognitive flexibility that makes the compound so unique. Recent research suggests psilocybin can help with other conditions like treatment-resistant eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

Psilocybin’s Role in Alcoholism

Last June, researchers announced what they said is the first randomized controlled trial examining psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for AUD, however that study only involved 13 participants.

A 2023 study published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors by the American Psychological Association on June 5, 2023 found that psilocybin can be an effective treatment for people with alcohol addiction.

Entitled “Reports of self-compassion and affect regulation in psilocybin-assisted therapy for alcohol use disorder: An interpretive phenomenological analysis,” the study was conducted by researchers from New York University and University of California, San Francisco, as well as a psychedelic integration and psychedelic-assisted therapy business called Fluence.

The study objective was to “delineate psychological mechanisms of change” for those who suffer from AUD.

“Participants reported that the psilocybin treatment helped them process emotions related to painful past events and helped promote states of self-compassion, self-awareness, and feelings of interconnectedness,” researchers stated. “The acute states during the psilocybin sessions were described as laying the foundation for developing more self-compassionate regulation of negative affect. Participants also described newfound feelings of belonging and an improved quality of relationships following the treatment.”

Based upon this evidence, researchers explained that psilocybin “increases the malleability of self-related processing, and diminishes shame-based and self-critical thought patterns while improving affect regulation and reducing alcohol cravings,” the authors concluded. “These findings suggest that psychosocial treatments that integrate self-compassion training with psychedelic therapy may serve as a useful tool for enhancing psychological outcomes in the treatment of AUD.”

The evidence is piling up and developments are underway to form a protocol for battling AUD with the help of psilocybin.



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