Opioid abuse is a prevalent and very dangerous substance use disorder. Psychedelic use has been proposed as a treatment for various substance use disorders, leading people to question if it would be an effective treatment for opioid abuse. A study published in Nature: Scientific Reports suggests that psilocybin use, but no other psychedelics, was linked to lower odds of opioid abuse.
Opioid abuse is a serious and deadly public health crisis. It has a very high rate of death, accounting for around 70% of overdose deaths in the US. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this problem has only gotten increasingly worse. Despite the prevalence of opioid addiction, there are not many effective pharmacological treatments for it. Classic psychedelics have been used to treat different kinds of substance use disorder, though the research on this is still emerging and is somewhat limited.
Grant Jones and colleagues used data from The National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2015 to 2019. This survey utilizes a nationally representative sample of the US, not including military members, incarcerated individuals, or people experiencing homelessness. Lifetime use of 4 commonly used psychedelics were the main independent variables used for this study. This study also utilized demographic information, self-reported risk behaviors, and lifetime use of other substances. The main dependent variable was meeting criteria for opioid use disorder.
Results showed that the only substance that was associated with lower chances of opioid use disorder was psilocybin. Psilocybin was related to lowered odds for 7 of the 11 DMS-IV criteria that make up opioid use disorder. Peyote, mescaline, and LSD did not have this same relationship, showing either no significant relationship or even an increase in opioid dependence. Psilocybin users who have or have not used opioids differed on all demographic traits measured by this study, which include sex, education, race, income, age, and marital status.
This study took steps into seeing if psychedelics may be a viable treatment for opioid abuse. Despite this, it has limitations. Though this study utilized a very large and representative sample, The National Survey on Drug Use and Health excludes some groups of people that may have high rates of drug abuse, including people experiencing homelessness. In addition, due to the cross-sectional nature of this study, no causal relationships can be assumed.
The study, “Associations between classic psychedelics and opioid use disorder in a nationally-representative US adult sample“, was authored by Grant Jones, Jocelyn A. Ricard, Joshua Lipson, and Matthew K. Nock.