Study indicates psychedelics may hold considerable potential in the treatment of alcoholism

The use of psychedelic drugs may lead to reductions in problematic alcohol use, according to preliminary research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

“Psychedelics appear to have the ability to induce a behavioral and mental plasticity, which is a way of saying they can serve as profound behavior change agents when applied in the right settings and framework,” said study author Matthew W. Johnson (@Drug_Researcher), an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“They have potential to treat addictions, broadly defined. This is informed by early research with LSD as well as with reports regarding sacramental use of psychedelics by indigenous cultures and syncretic religions. Now the current study suggests that such anti-addictive effects for alcohol might be at play in the general population.”

Through online advertisements, the researchers recruited 343 individuals who had used a classic psychedelic drugs. The advertisements specifically sought participants who had “overcome alcohol or drug addiction after using psychedelics.”

The participants completed a survey that included several measures to assess their past alcohol use and misuse. The survey also collected demographic information and data about the psychedelic experience to which they attributed their alcohol use cessation or reduction.

The researchers found that most of the participants met the criteria for severe alcohol use disorder in the year prior to their psychedelic experience, but a large majority no longer met the criteria after the experience.

Most of the participants said the psychedelic experience in question was the result of a moderate or high dose of either LSD or psilocybin.

Eight out of 10 participants rated the psychedelic experience among the 10 most personally meaningful experiences of their life, while about 4 in 10 rated it among the 10 most psychologically challenging experiences.

The researchers also found that participants who reported more mystical-type effects and a greater overall intensity during their psychedelic experience tended to report bigger changes in their alcohol use.

“Public funding should be made available for conducting rigorous trials examining psychedelics in the treatment of addiction. Thus far, no NIH funding has been devoted to therapeutic human studies with psychedelics, despite a decades-long safety record and signs of promising effects,” Johnson told PsyPost.

The findings indicate that these substances hold “considerable potential” for the treatment of alcohol use disorder, the researchers wrote in their study.

But like all research, the study includes some limitations. For instance, the sample was likely supportive of psychedelic use in general and the results could be affected by recall bias.

“There are very real risks to psychedelics, but these can be squarely mitigated with well established safety procedures in clinical research. The major questions left are whether results hold up in much larger controlled studies, but those take a lot of money and time to conduct,” Johnson noted.

“This research should not encourage folks to try this at home. There are risks to these compounds.”

The study, “Cessation and reduction in alcohol consumption and misuse after psychedelic use“, was authored by Albert Garcia-Romeu, Alan K. Davis, Fire Erowid, Earth Erowid, Roland R Griffiths and Matthew W. Johnson.