Alcohol addiction is a serious problem, but possibly psilocybin can make a difference. Excessive drinking is common; in the Netherlands, nearly 10% of people can be considered heavy drinkers. Worldwide, 5.3% of all deaths are due to alcohol abuse. Addictions are difficult to treat. But psilocybin from magic mushrooms could potentially be used to treat alcohol addiction.
The history of mind-altering drugs in addiction
Alcohol addiction (also called alcohol use disorder) has serious harmful consequences, not only physically, but also socially and financially. A variety of treatments are available, from therapies to medication to group meetings. Yet the rates of people recovering are very low. Only half of patients treated for a year recover.
Therefore, other ways of treating alcohol addiction and abuse are being actively sought. Psilocybin (the mind-altering substance in magic mushrooms) might help. In the past, Humphrey Osmond (he was the one who started using the term psychedelics for hallucinogens), did research on the effects of these drugs. He was also very interested in how psychedelics could help with addictions, especially alcoholism.
Between 1954 and 1960, he treated nearly 2,000 people suffering from alcohol addiction with LSD. On average, 40 to 45% of his patients stopped drinking completely one year after treatment. So although Osmond (and other researchers) were successful in using psychedelics, research came to a halt due to the “war on drugs” in the 1970s.
Only in 2014 were investigations restarted. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University did a pilot study of doses of psilocybin to see what effect it had on people who wanted to quit smoking. This was followed by other studies on the effects of psychedelics on addictions.
Psilocybin for alcohol addiction: research
Mushrooms have been used for centuries, and among natural peoples this is also certainly because of their medicinal effects. In the West, we have only been researching the powers of psilocybin for a few decades, and it is now being increasingly used in mental health care.
Several clinical studies have been done, showing that the use of psilocybin can be helpful in mental disorders, such as:
- Anxiety Disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
It is suspected that the reason psilocybin gives good results in therapy is that it increases cognitive flexibility. This means that it can promote the ability to learn and change behavioral and thinking patterns. The power of psilocybin in alcohol addiction and other mental symptoms comes from the fact that the substance interacts with the 5-HT2A receptors.
These are proteins that normally respond to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Psilocybin, through this interaction, can stimulate the production of BDNF, a molecule important for developing new connections between nerve cells. Because it creates more flexibility in the brain, psilocybin can be a valuable drug for alcohol use disorder. It can help people scrutinize their own behavior and change unhealthy habits.
Psilocybin in combination with therapy
There is also interest in combining psilocybin with therapy. Researchers at New York University recently conducted research (2022) on this form of therapy for alcohol dependence. This study included 93 participants who were classified as heavy drinkers. They received 12 weeks of psychotherapy combined with psilocybin or a placebo. It was a randomized, double-blind study. This means that neither the participants nor the therapists knew whether they were receiving psilocybin or a placebo.
Compared to before treatment, the days of heavy drinking among those receiving psilocybin therapy decreased by 83%. In the placebo group, it was 51%. So that means that the therapy itself was also very useful, but psilocybin can make it even more successful. Moreover, it was found that nearly half of the psilocybin group had completely stopped drinking 8 months after their first dose of psilocybin.
What are the effects of microdosing psilocybin on alcoholism?
Microdosing can also have a major positive impact on mental health, including addiction. However, there has been much less research on it, and most of the data has been obtained from surveys of users, which is less reliable than clinical trials. For example, the University of Toronto conducted research among 278 microdosers on their experiences of microdosing and alcoholism. This showed reduced dependence and fewer symptoms.
Other reports on well-known microdosing websites also show that microdosing can help people get rid of addictions, such as caffeine, smoking or gambling. It is still not really clear why microdosing can have such positive effects, but even these low amounts of a mind-altering drug can potentially improve cognitive flexibility.
Research shows that taking a microdose of LSD, for example, can also increase BDNF in participants. So if you don’t want to take a full dose of psilocybin, microdosing can also be a good option for dealing with alcohol addiction.
Psilocybin in addictions
Psilocybin thus appears to be a promising drug in the treatment of alcohol dependence and other addictions. There hasn’t been a lot of research on it yet, unfortunately, but hopefully more scientists will dive into this topic. Only then will it be accepted and more widely used as a therapy in the future.
Are you interested in taking psilocybin yourself? Use caution and consult with your doctor first to see if using this drug is appropriate for you. Addiction usually does not just happen; it may be based on trauma. The use of mind-altering drugs has a different effect on each person and this can be very different from what you had envisioned. If you want to use magic mushrooms, choose a mushroom strain with mild effects (such as the Mexican) and take a low dose. Or try microdosing, then hallucinations will cease altogether.