Breaking Addictions With Psychedelics
3 min

Breaking Addictions With Psychedelics

3 min
News Research

Giving up an addiction is hard, and even more so when it is an intractable addiction with few treatment options. As it turns out, psychedelics may be the key we have been looking for.

According to various research, psychedelics have massive potential in treating serious addictions, including alcohol and nicotine dependence. It is a profound finding, and has many implications when you consider that a harmless substance like psilocybin could be harnessed to facilitate drug rehabilitation and potentially save lives.

Beating alcoholism with LSD

Retrospective analysis of research carried out into LSD before its outright prohibition has found that there is strong evidence to suggest that it could be used to help facilitate alcoholics recovering from their addiction.

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim have analysed data first gathered by clinical studies conducted in the late 60’s and 70’s that investigated the effects of LSD on those suffering from various forms of addiction.

It was found that there were significant beneficial effects in patients who took LSD, which lasted for several months. The research outlined how some patients that were part of an alcohol treatment program were given a single dose of LSD, varying between 210 and 800 milligrams. 59% of the group who took LSD displayed reduced levels of alcohol abuse. The group who was not given LSD only showed a 38% reduction. Also, of those who took LSD, there was a greater number of complete abstinence when compared to those who did not take it.

The effects appeared to wear off after roughly 6 months. The authors of the report suggest that regular doses could help maintain the benefits, and that a single dose was a significant step to helping combat the addiction. "Given the evidence for a beneficial effect of LSD on alcoholism, it is puzzling why this treatment approach has been largely overlooked," they also commented.

This view was not only restricted to scientists. Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous also believed LSD could be a central tool in breaking alcohol addiction.

It was about 20 years after the sobriety movement in 1935 that Wilson came to believe in LSD and its ability to help create a spiritual and deep understanding of the self within the patient. To begin with, Wilson was hesitant, just like many in his time. The idea of using one drug to overcome the addiction of another can seem odd; but after taking LSD himself at the Veterans Administration hospital in 1956, he began to believe the insights LSD provides could be a useful tool in the fight against alcoholism. He warned: "I don't believe [LSD] has any miraculous property of transforming spiritually and emotionally sick people into healthy ones overnight. It can set up a shining goal on the positive side, after all it is only a temporary ego-reducer."

This would allow those who do not trust in themselves, or are too cynical for their own good, to put these thoughts and emotions aside for a while, and truly think about their situation without any distraction. The fact that this was the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous throwing his name behind LSD further shows the potential for its use.

Professor David Nutt, who, as the UK government drug adviser, called for the relaxing of drug laws to allow for further research matter. He commented on the previous research, saying that curing alcohol addiction requires the patient to change the way they see themselves and that this is what LSD does. He went on to say that LSD appeared to be a very significant possibility, that we have nothing else that compares to it in its effectiveness for treating alcoholism, and that we have “missed a trick” by casting it aside.

This is echoed by many psychiatrists. Humphry Osmond, the renowned British psychiatrist who coined the term "psychedelic", told Bill Wilson in the 70's that LSD "was a good thing", and that its had great potential.

Wilson went onto benefit from LSD, describing how it brought down barriers erected by his ego, and how it improved his reaction to certain situations, leveling him out.

Unfortunately, Alcoholics Anonymous did not share Wilson's views. Possibly due to the somewhat conservative nature of the authorities, many within the organisation did not want to give a mind altering drug with fledgling research the time of day. Wilson eventually left the organisation to pursue his own experiments. Things could be very different today of prohibition had not slammed its fist down on LSD and allowed it to be researched more.

Helping with nicotine addiction

Alcohol addiction is not the only thing psychedelics appear to be able to help with, recent studies are now looking into the effects of psychedelics on nicotine addiction.

The Beckley Foundation builds on research performed during the 60’s, investigating the effects of hallucinogens on addiction. Using the historical research as a basis, they believe hallucinogens such as psilocybin contained within magic mushrooms, and LSD can be used to break the cycle of addiction caused by nicotine and another drugs, offering an aid to psychotherapy.

In their study, all participants were smokers who had previously tried to give up their addiction but failed. The participants took part in three sessions where they were given a specially prepared dose of psilocybin, cognitive behavioural therapy, and ongoing interpersonal support.

Four long term smokers were used, and all managed to quit and abstain from cigarettes for over a year. On a self-reported measure, 3 of the participants have said they have not had a single puff of tobacco since their first psilocybin session.

The group now plans to conduct a slightly larger, 15 participant replication of the study, followed by a large scale clinical trial should the results of this prove positive. It is encouraging news, and indicates that hallucinogenic are much more effective at anything we currently have at our disposal to help beat serious addiction.

It is worth noting that the use of LSD or psilocybin to beat an addiction does not replace one addiction with another - both LSD and psilocybin are not addictive.

All results point towards an effective and safe tool that was cast aside for the sake of a war on drugs. Fortunately, scientists are taking a renewed interest in some of these outlawed substances to see what the real implications of taking them are. Governments are still unwilling to listen, and in some cases, such as that of David Nutt, are firing scientists and advisers who do not tell them what they want to hear. As the scientific momentum picks back up, we will hopefully hear more about the true nature of hallucinogens, and their practical applications to man.

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