Can Psychedelics Help Cure addiction?

It’s no secret that addiction is a terrible disease, and one from which far too many people suffer. Every year, people across the globe battle with addictions to drugs, alcohol, and other substances, feeling like there’s no way to break their dangerous (and often life-threatening) habits.

However, it’s important to remember that recovery is possible. According to the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 75% of American adults with a history of substance use reported successfully living in recovery in 2018.1

What is the secret to effective and lasting recovery? In many cases, it’s all about finding the right addiction treatment for you. This might mean enrolling in inpatient rehab, regular group therapy through programs like AA, or something a bit more… experimental. 

There is a growing body of research to support the theory that psychedelic drug therapy could have a profound effect on individuals trying to break free from their addictions. The idea is one that certainly attracts attention — but does it work? Let’s take a closer look at psychedelics’ effects on the brain and how they could influence addiction recovery. 

What Are Psychedelics?

The term “psychedelics” refers to a class of substances that alter perception and mood and enhance sensory perceptions. These substances include the following:

  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
  • Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)
  • Mescaline
  • Psilocybin (mushrooms)
  • Peyote
  • MDMA (Ecstasy)

Currently, the federal government classifies psychedelics as Schedule 1 substances. This means that, in the opinion of the DEA, they have “high abuse potential; no accepted medical use; and lack of safety even under medical supervision.” However, many professionals in the medical and scientific community question that classification — particularly after they study the potential benefits of psychedelic drug therapy. 

What do Psychedelics Do?

Most people’s understanding of psychedelics is derived from what they see on TV and in movies. We’re all familiar with the trippy, colorful sequences films use to depict a character’s experience while on acid, mushrooms, or ecstasy. While these scenes are exaggerated for the purpose of art and entertainment, they can often hew close to the truth.

Psychedelics cause the user to experience vivid hallucinations, intense sounds, and an altered consciousness that psychedelic advocates typically call “a higher state of perception.” These psychedelic effects last anywhere from a few minutes (a DMT “buzz” lasts 20 minutes on average) to several hours or even one month (as is the case with psychedelic mushrooms).2

How Psychedelics Affect the Brain

What makes people have these bizarre experiences while using psychedelics? To understand that, we need to examine psychedelics’ effect on the brain. Psychedelics have a profound effect on many regions of the brain. For example, ayahuasca increases neural activity in the visual cortex (which increases self-awareness) and the limbic system (which helps process memories and emotions). 

These effects on the brain are precisely why some scientists are excited about psychedelic drug therapies. The heightened awareness psychedelics facilitate could help an individual better understand their substance use triggers, which could help tremendously in their recovery journey. Additionally, the increased neural activity people experience while using psychedelics could help to change habits that are hard-wired in an addict’s system. Psychedelic drug therapy can help disrupt that wiring, making it easier to change one’s addictive habits and behavior. 

Of course, even researchers who are interested in positive psychedelic health effects are asking the question, “What are the long-term effects of psychedelic mushrooms and similar substances?” It is important to note that there can be some long-term effects of psychedelic mushrooms, MDMA, and other drugs.3 The most severe of these side effects are flashbacks and persistent psychosis, which leads to side effects like:

  • Paranoid
  • Distorted thinking
  • Visual hallucinations

While these psychedelic health effects are rare, they are also very unpredictable. If you or your loved one is interested in psychedelic drug therapy, it’s critical to discuss these risks with a professional before moving forward.

Psychedelics and Addiction

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about psychedelics is the fact that they are largely considered non-addictive.4 While it is true that many individuals who use psychedelics develop a high tolerance for the drug, research shows that this tolerance decreases after a few days of abstinence.5

The non-addictive nature of psychedelics is a positive thing for advocates who want to use these drugs to treat addiction. Treatment programs could use psychedelics to help patients confront the emotional roots of their addiction and disrupt the neural connections reinforcing their addictive habit — all without the risk of replacing one dependency for another.

Psychedelics as an Addiction Treatment Method

Currently, psychedelic drug therapy is still considered an experimental treatment. It is not widely available for people struggling with addiction — but there are many studies that could change minds in the scientific community. 

In fact, psychedelic effects seem to offer untapped benefits for a wide range of health conditions. Drugs like LSD and mushrooms have proven effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even PTSD.6 They have also proven very useful in helping people overcome addiction.

The Science Behind Psychedelics for Addiction Treatment Effectiveness

Research on addiction and psychedelic drug therapy has been growing in recent years, And much of the evidence is very promising. For example, studies on mice and rats from 2016 revealed that the test subjects reduced their self-administered intake of cocaine, opioids, nicotine, and alcohol after ingesting the psychedelic ibogaine.7

Recently, Johns Hopkins University has taken psychedelic drug therapy to the next level through their Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. In their studies, subjects who were addicted to nicotine took psilocybin (mushrooms) in three doses: one on the day they quit smoking, another two weeks later, and a third either weeks later. The psychedelic use was coupled with several weeks of behavioral therapy.

The result of this stuff was astounding: six months after the trial ended, 80% of participants were still abstaining from smoking.8 Given that the typical relapse rate for addiction is between 40 and 60%, the Johns Hopkins study proved that psychedelic drug therapy offers real promise.9

Similarly, the Journal of Pharmacology published results from a study on MDMA use for alcohol addiction treatment in 2021. Study participants received two sessions using MDMA (ecstasy), with psychological support before and after using. The findings here were also encouraging, and the average weekly alcohol consumption across all participants decreased from 130.6 units to 18.7 units nine months after the trial.10

As the body of evidence on psychedelic effects and how they can influence addiction care grows, many people are becoming more interested in psychedelic drug therapy. These substances could one day be a vital tool for helping people overcome addiction for life.

Get Help Today

While the potential benefits of psychedelic drug therapy are very exciting, it’s important to remember that this type of treatment isn’t for everyone. Drug addiction is a very personal and individualized affliction, and therefore recovery won’t look the same for every person. This is why it’s so important to find help that meets your specific needs — and Better Addiction Care can help you do just that. 

Our treatment advisors will work with you to find the drug or alcohol addiction treatment that’s right for you. We’ll ask you questions that will help us better understand your recovery needs, such as:

  • What kind of treatment are you looking for? Medication-assisted treatment, inpatient care, or outpatient treatment?
  • What is your substance use history, including when you last used it?
  • Do you have any medical problems that require additional care during your recovery?
  • Do you want to receive treatment tailored for a specific group (women, veterans, LGBTQ+ individuals, etc.)?
  • Who is your current insurance provider, or what other payment arrangements are you looking for?

Your answers to these questions will help us find the local rehab facility that will give you the greatest chance of recovery success. We will even help connect you with the treatment center so you can begin the admission process and take the first step towards recovery. 

Better Addiction Care is always here, always free, and always confidential. Call us today at (800) 429-7690 and let us help you, or someone you care about, fight addiction. 

Resources

  1. Jones, C., Noonan, R., & Compton, W. (2020, September 1). “Prevalence and correlates of ever having a substance use problem and substance use recovery status among adults in the United States, 2018. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Retrieved March 19, 2022 fromhttps://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0376871620303343
  2. Barrett, F. et. al. (2020, February 10). “Emotion and brain function are altered up to one month after a single high dose f psilocybin.” Scientific Reports. Retrieved March 21, 2022 from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-59282-y
  3. National Institutes on Drug Abuse. (2021, November). Hallucinogens DrugFacts. National Institutes of Health. Retrived March 22, 2022 from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens
  4. The Drug Policy Alliance. (n.d.) Is LSD Addictive? The Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved March 21, 2022 from https://drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/is-lsd-addictive
  5. Das, S. et. al. (2016, March 23). “Lysergic acid diethylamide: a drug of ‘use’?” Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology. Retrieved March 21, 2022 from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2045125316640440
  6. Villines, Z. (2021, June 29). What to Know About Psychedelic Therapy. Medical News Today. Retrieved March 21, 2022 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/psychedelic-therapy
  7. Belgers, M. et. al. (2016, May 31). “Ibogaine and addiction in the animal model, a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Translational Psychiatry. Retrieved March 22, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5545647/
  8. Johnson, M, PhD. et. al. (2014, September 11). “Pilot study of the 5-HT2AR agonist psilocybin in the treatment of tobacco addiction.” Journal of Psychopharmacology. Retrieved March 22, 2022 from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0269881114548296
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020 July). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. The National Institutes of Health. Retrieved March 21, 2022 from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
  10. Sessa, B. et al. (20201, February 18). “First study of safety and tolerability of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy in patients with alcohol use disorder.” Journal of Psychopharmacology. Retrieved March 21, 2022 from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0269881121991792?journalCode=jopa

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