Building on the growing evidence that psilocybin has the potential to treat a host of serious mental health conditions, researchers are now studying the effects that the active component in magic mushrooms might have on obesity.
Previous research into psilocybin and other psychedelics has repeatedly shown that the drugs may be an effective treatment for mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. Additionally, a correlational study published last year determined that those who reported having tried a classic psychedelic drug at least once during their lifetime had a significantly lower chance of being overweight or obese.
In a recent study, scientists affiliated with the University of Copenhagen in Denmark conducted an experiment with mice to investigate the potential of psilocybin to reduce food cravings. To conduct the study, the researchers used mouse models of genetic obesity, diet-induced obesity and binge-eating disorder to investigate the effect of psilocybin on body weight and food intake.
Initial results showed that a single high dose of psilocybin or a daily microdosing did not lead to reduced body weight or less food intake among obese mice treated with the drug. Although they did not find evidence to support the hypothesis, they were encouraged by the study and urged further research.
“We were surprised to see that psilocybin did not have at least a subtle direct effect on food intake and/or body weight in genetic and diet-induced models of obesity and overeating,” study author Christoffer Clemmensen, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, told PsyPost. “Although we failed to discover major effects of psilocybin on mouse energy metabolism and behaviors associated with eating, we believe that there are nuances of the mode of action of psychedelics that cannot be appropriately captured in rodent models. Importantly, psilocybin was safe and had no adverse effects on the physiological parameters we tested in mice.”
Obesity is Common and Costly in the U.S.
Obesity is one the most pressing health problems in the United States, affecting nearly 42% of adults from 2017 to 2020, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The obesity prevalence was 39.8% among adults aged 20 to 39 years, 44.3% among adults aged 40 to 59 years, and 41.5% among adults aged 60 and older.
Health conditions related to obesity include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, helping to make them among the leading causes of preventable, premature death. The annual estimated medical costs of obesity totaled approximately $173 billion in 2019, adding about $1,861 to the medical costs for each person with obesity.
“Perhaps surprisingly, obesity is a rather treatment resistant disease that shares neuropathological similarities to mental disorders, such as addiction,” said Clemmensen.
“Dysfunctions in homeostatic and reward circuitry can lead to ‘relapse’ in people with obesity, making it difficult to adhere to lifestyle and even drug interventions. Given that psychedelics are thought to enhance the plasticity of neural circuits, it may be that when combined with behavioural therapy, psychedelics might be powerful tools for ‘resetting’ long-held compulsive behaviors. Further, classic psychedelics act on the serotonergic system, and could have a direct effect on food intake by broad activation of serotonin (5-HT) receptors, emphasizing their potential benefits for obesity.”
The researchers noted that despite their value to scientific research, mouse models are not a perfect substitute for human subjects and encouraged further study into the potential of psilocybin to affect food intake and weight.
“The main caveat is translation,” Clemmensen said. “Although animal models in general have been invaluable for neuroscience and metabolism research they might be inappropriate for testing health benefits of psychedelics.”
“I remain excited about this topic, psychedelics for treatment of obesity and eating disorders and I think we should start considering what sub-groups of patients could benefit from this drug class,” he added.
The study, “Acute and long-term effects of psilocybin on energy balance and feeding behavior in mice,” was published last month by the peer-reviewed journal Translational Psychiatry.