Updated: Oct 17, 2022
While psychedelic drugs have been demonized for decades, research shows that psychedelics may actually have a positive impact on those who are living with a substance use disorder. Early research on the potential of psychedelics for addiction treatment took place between the 1950s-1970s. Humphrey Osmond and Abram Hoffer were the first to examine the potential of LSD and mescaline for the treatment of alcoholism. Osmond and Hoffer’s research was guided by the observation that individuals experiencing alcoholism tended to achieve sobriety after experiencing delirium tremens (a toxic syndrome caused by alcohol withdrawal). They hypothesized that psychedelics may cause a safer delirium that could still lead to sobriety without the risk of death or serious harmed that could be caused by delirium tremens. Instead of the delirium that they expected, Osmond and Hoffer observed “mind manifesting” effects that led to sobriety.
A meta-analysis of six studies involving 325 participants who were randomly given either an LSD dose ranging from 210ug-810ug or a placebo found a significant decrease in alcohol misuse in the LSD group compared to the control group. So, we know that psychedelics such as LSD and mescaline can decrease alcohol use for individuals living with alcoholism, but does it work for other types of substance use disorders? A group of researchers aimed to answer that question with a study that involved giving heroin-addicted individuals either a placebo or a 300ug-450ug dose of LSD. Results of this study showed that individuals who were give LSD had a 5 times higher abstinence rate compared to the individuals in the control group.
A recent study was conducted to examine psilocybin’s potential for decreasing tobacco and nicotine dependency. In this study, psilocybin was paired with cognitive behavioural therapy for smoking cessation. In this study, 12 of 15 participants were able to become smoke-free for 6 months past the date that they had quit. The participants who were smoke-free scored significantly higher on a measure of psilocybin-occasioned mystical experience compared to those who relapsed. Researchers are not yet sure why mystical experiences seem to help treat addiction. Modern research continues to confirm what we have learned from studies of the past; psychedelics have serious potential for addiction treatment. It will be interesting to see how we can incorporate psychedelic therapy for individuals living with a substance-use disorder. Alberta has recently regulated magic mushrooms for therapeutic use and I hope that the rest of Canada won't be far behind.