New Study Analyzes Efficacy of Psilocybin as Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Researchers state that this is the first randomized controlled trial examining psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for alcohol use disorder.

Nicole Potter

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

Officially 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 alcohol use disorders (referred to as AUDs). All participants were engaged in interviews about their experiences, and asked questions about their alcohol use before and after the study. They were also asked about their coping patterns when enduring “strong emotions, stress, and cravings for alcohol.”

According to the study results, researchers examined how psilocybin helped them overcome various stressors. “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.”

Through this evidence, they 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.”

Researchers did note that the study included 13 participants described as non-Hispanic and white, with “approximately equal proportions of cisgender men and women.” However, this small sample size is not a thorough representation of communities most at risk for substance abuse. The average annual income of the 13 participants was $144,000. “In psychedelic research studies, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color have been vastly underrepresented even as the multigenerational effects of centuries of racialized policies burden them with high rates of trauma and other mental health sequelae,” researchers explained. “This presents stakeholders with an ethical imperative to prioritize providing opportunities to individuals from historically underrepresented communities to ensure generalizability and that those who could stand to benefit most are not excluded.”

Psilocybin is becoming a mainstream alternative for traditional treatments of various medical conditions. Like cannabis, psilocybin is slowly growing in popularity, and being analyzed as the subject of other medical studies as well as supportive locations for psilocybin therapy to be legally accessible to qualified patients.

Last month, Ohio State University received a DEA license to cultivate whole psilocybin mushrooms. In Arizona, psilocybin research was approved in the most recent appropriations act budget. Oregon made history as it announced the state’s first psilocybin service center license to be approved as well. 

Also last month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5263 which requires the University of Washington School of Medicine to conduct a study that explores the efficacy of psilocybin. “The big benchmark in the bill says that we need to start (treating) people Jan. 1, 2025. We have about a year and a half to get all the infrastructure developed,” said Dr. Nathan Sackett, who will be overseeing the trial. 

More recently, a biotech company known as Tryp Therapeutics announced that it would be seeking FDA approval for a psilocybin treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Earlier this month, a Washington-based research company known as CaaMTech announced that it is seeking to combine psilocybin and cannabis into a single medical treatment with the hopes of expanding the beneficial effects of both substances.

Nicole Potter

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