Psilocybin therapy to treat addiction is far from a new topic, as a number of recent studies have noted that the emerging psychedelic treatment could help folks struggling with substance use disorders including alcohol and nicotine addiction.
The compound comes from the aptly named “magic” mushrooms, and we’re continuing to uncover its broad potential in treating a number of mental health conditions… But could psilocybin have a role in treating gambling addiction? A team of British scientists are about to find out.
A Historic First: Psilocybin to Treat Gambling Addiction
The clinical trial, and government-funded study, is the world’s first clinical trial of its kind, exploring the possibility of psilocybin to treat gambling addiction, according to a Mirror report. The study could help to develop a treatment that would later become available on the National Health Service (NHS), England’s publicly funded healthcare system and one of four in the U.K.
The research will be carried out by four top neuropharmacologists. Study leader Rayyan Zafar nodded to its historic nature, calling it a “pioneering move.”
“We’re super excited,” Zafar said. “We’ve been wanting to do this work for quite a while. “We’ll be starting from October onwards. Initially there will be five patients and then from next year onwards we’ll obviously ramp that up.”
Curbing Addiction Beyond Substance Use
When it comes to alcohol addiction and psilocybin, results are promising.
A 2022 study found that participants with alcohol use disorder who received psilocybin saw a 51% reduction in heavy drinking. Eight months after the first dose, 48% of the participants who took psilocybin had stopped drinking altogether, versus 24% of the placebo group.
Another study published in June 2023 found that psilocybin helped those with alcohol use disorder to overcome a number of stressors. Specifically, the treatment “increases the malleability of self-related processing, and diminishes shame-based and self-critical thought patterns while improving affect regulation and reducing alcohol cravings,” according to authors.
Zafar nodded to these trends, suggesting that if psilocybin can work to treat substance addictions, it may have “equally beneficial results” when it comes to gambling addiction. According to Zafar, gambling addicts share similar brain characteristics seen in people with other additions, like alcohol or heroin.
“The rise of gambling addiction in the U.K. is horrendous and gambling addiction is now recognized as a medical diagnosis,” he added. “But only about 3% of individuals who have got a gambling addiction actually receive professional treatment in the U.K., and there’s no approved pharmacological interventions — licensed drugs or therapies — available. There’s a massive area of unmet clinical need so we’re hoping that psilocybin therapy may one day be used in the NHS to treat individuals with gambling disorders. It is an area which needs a lot of innovation.”
A Potentially Shrinking Stigma and Hope for the Future
The study will be funded with money awarded by Imperial College London out of U.K. government funding, which Zafar said on its own is a sign of progress when it comes to the broader stances on psychedelic medicines.
“Historically with psychedelic research in the U.K. there’s been very little institutional or government-backed funding so this is a really positive sign,” he said. “Maybe it’s a sign times are changing. It’s becoming more of a priority area and it’s no longer a fringe science.”
While psilocybin shows promise in treating addiction, we’re continuing to examine what these results look like in the long-term and if some individuals may be more likely to benefit from such treatments than others. As psychedelic-assisted therapies continue to emerge in healthcare settings, high costs are also a barrier for many.
Still, the potential behind psilocybin therapy continues to grow, as it addresses more than simply a chemical dependency. As we know from the rapid changes over the past decade regarding the evolving cannabis industry, we’re likely to see a number of major shifts in the coming years when it comes to psilocybin- and psychedelic-assisted therapies.