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Psilocybin Mushrooms: A Potential Solution for Addiction?

May 30, 2022

Written by: Psilovibe and the Mushroom Tao team
Reader: Dr. Rick Barnett, Sarah Gorban
Edited by: Tara Ruttenberg

Buddha statue, symbolizing tranquility and mindfulness

1. Psychedelics in Addiction Treatment: A Resurging Exploration

The intertwined history of psychedelics and addiction treatment in the Western world is rich and spans decades. Here's an insight into this journey, touching upon the early enthusiasts, societal backlashes, and the renewed interest fueled by compelling recent research.

Psychedelics and Addiction: A Historic Glance

Despite its seemingly contemporary resonance, the association between psychedelics and addiction treatment traces back over 50 years. A notable advocate was Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. He saw great promise in LSD's potential to combat alcohol addiction as early as the 1960s.

The Cultural Revolution and Psychedelics

The late 1960s saw psychedelics catalyzing cultural movements. Timothy Leary, with his call to "Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out," became the face of these revolutions. However, the rise of the counterculture brought with it societal apprehensions. The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, championed by President Nixon, placed many psychedelic substances under Schedule I, stifling psychedelic research for nearly three decades.

The Reawakening: Psychedelics in Modern Research

With escalating emotional and mental health crises and traditional healthcare models faltering, the 21st century has rekindled interest in psychedelic research. Addiction, a pervasive challenge affecting an estimated 10% of US adults, is a focal research point. The devastating opioid crisis and surging drug overdose deaths, surpassing 100,000 in 2020, further underscore the need for innovative interventions.

Understanding Addiction Beyond the Surface

Holistic healthcare professionals perceive addiction as a standalone condition and a manifestation of unresolved traumas and suppressed emotions. This viewpoint demands treatments that delve deep into addiction's emotional and psychological roots, moving beyond superficial fixes.

Psilocybin: A Promising Frontier in Addiction Treatment

Recent explorations have spotlighted psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound in magic mushrooms. Its potential as a therapeutic agent is gaining traction, with many attesting to its efficacy in facilitating personal growth and breaking free from debilitating patterns.

Journey Ahead: Psilocybin and the Future of Healing

As we venture further into the potential of psychedelics in treating addiction, it's clear that psilocybin stands as a beacon of hope. Dive deeper with us as we explore how this natural compound might be the key to holistic healing for those grappling with substance abuse.

display of cigars and assorted liquor bottles depicting addiction

2. Understanding Substance Use Disorder (SUD): More Than Just "Addiction"

When we hear the word "addiction," it often conjures images that don't entirely capture the complexity of the condition. Medical professionals often employ the term "Substance Use Disorder" or SUD for a more transparent and comprehensive understanding.

Defining SUD

Substance Use Disorder is a recognized mental condition affecting both the brain's functionality and an individual's behavior. This disorder manifests when one struggles to manage or limit the consumption of legal or illegal substances.

While popular culture might have us believe that addiction exclusively pertains to illegal drugs, SUD has a broader scope. It encompasses legal substances such as alcohol, nicotine, and prescription medications.

A Closer Look: Prescription Medication & SUD

Recognizing that SUD isn't exclusive to 'recreational' drugs is crucial. Many individuals become reliant on medications initially prescribed to manage health challenges. For instance, opioids, like oxycodone or hydrocodone, are often prescribed to handle chronic pain. While they offer relief and, for some, a euphoric feeling, they can become a crutch for those unequipped with coping mechanisms for pain. This over-reliance can escalate into a full-blown substance use disorder.

Similarly, certain prescribed medications for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and attention-deficit disorder can lead to physiological dependence, especially when not consumed as directed.

The Impact of SUD

When left unchecked, SUD can take a toll on one's personal and professional life, leading to deteriorating relationships and impaired performance at school or work. Symptoms indicative of SUD include:

  • An overwhelming urge or compulsion to consume the drug regularly.
  • Prioritizing expenditures on substances over essential needs.
  • Developing a heightened tolerance which necessitates increased dosages for similar effects.
  • Multiple unsuccessful attempts to reduce or stop consumption.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon reducing or ceasing drug intake.
  • Declining performance in various life sectors such as work, relationships, and schooling.

The Intersection of SUD with Other Mental Disorders

The research underscores a significant overlap between SUD and other mental health conditions. Studies estimate that half of those diagnosed with SUD concurrently experience another mental disorder, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD. This overlap is often a consequence of individuals trying to self-medicate their mental health symptoms, seeking solace in substances, leading them down a perilous path toward SUD.

In conclusion, as we navigate the complex realms of mental health and substance use, it's pivotal to approach Substance Use Disorder with compassion, understanding its intricate ties with other mental conditions and the broader societal influences.

a person whos addicted to alcohol thinking about psilocybin mushrooms

3. Traditional Treatment Approaches for Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

Behavioral Therapies: The Foundation of SUD Treatment

Several methodologies emerge when exploring the landscape of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) treatments. Among these are behavioral therapies, notably Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). These therapeutic modalities empower patients, equipping them with the tools to manage emotions, adopt coping mechanisms, and initiate positive behavioral changes. Whether delivered in a group dynamic or a personalized one-on-one setting, these talk therapies address SUD and delve deep into concurrent mental health conditions, such as depression, which often serve as the underlying triggers for substance dependency.

Pharmacological Interventions: Medications in the SUD Spectrum

Beyond therapy, pharmacological treatments are pivotal in the SUD management matrix. For individuals grappling with opioid use disorder, a cocktail of medications like methadone, buprenorphine (suboxone), and naltrexone have proven efficacious. These drugs dampen cravings and mitigate withdrawal symptoms, ranging from nausea and irritability to profound confusion. Meanwhile, for those wrestling with alcohol use disorder, the medicinal arsenal includes acamprosate, naltrexone, and occasionally, disulfiram. For those combatting nicotine dependence, Medications such as varenicline (Chantix), bupropion (Zyban), and nicotine replacement solutions like Nicorette gum and patches are often prescribed.

Rehabilitation Centers & Sober Living Homes: Structured Support Systems

For some individuals on the path to recovery, inpatient rehab centers offer a haven. These facilities provide an immersive, substance-free environment fortified by therapists' expertise and peers' camaraderie on similar journeys. Similarly, sober living homes emerge as a preferred choice for those seeking a structured, trigger-minimized setting, fostering an atmosphere conducive to sustained recovery.

Spiritual Pathways & The Psychedelic Renaissance in Recovery

Over the years, faith-anchored 12-step programs have illuminated the recovery path for countless individuals. Rooted in a holistic biopsychosocial and spiritual paradigm, these programs offer group-based fellowships and personalized mentor-mentee (sponsorship) dynamics, catering to those battling addiction's clutches.

A burgeoning movement known as "Psychedelics in Recovery" is capturing attention. Positioned as a combination of traditional 12-step methodologies and an open exploration of psychedelics and plant medicines, this approach is gaining traction among those seeking integrative paths to recovery.

4. Challenges in Contemporary Addiction Treatment

The Landscape of Modern Treatment for Substance Use Disorders

While therapeutic and pharmaceutical treatments for Substance Use Disorders (SUD) have made strides, sustained, long-term recovery remains elusive for many. Alarmingly, research reveals that 50-60% of those who undergo treatment face the grim prospect of relapse within the first 6 to 12 months.

Addressing Root Causes vs. Surface Symptoms

A challenge in treating addiction is that many treatments scratch the surface without delving into the causes. Some protocols, unfortunately, stem from misconceptions surrounding the genesis of addiction.

Renowned expert Dr. Gabor Mate offers, "Addiction isn't a mere choice, nor is it a reflection of moral inadequacy or an inherited brain ailment. Instead, it emerges as a heart-wrenching response to profound human distress."

The Role of Medication: A Double-Edged Sword?

While therapy has its merits, the role of medication in treating addiction is multifaceted. Medications often provide symptomatic relief, reducing cravings or tempering withdrawal symptoms. Still, they mimic the brain activity triggered by the substances individuals try to avoid. The absence of the associated "high" doesn't necessarily equate to healing. Consequently, when the pharmaceutical crutch is removed, relapses are commonplace. The path to genuine health and well-being extends beyond pills.

Healing in Community: What are the Obstacles?

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk insightfully notes in his seminal work, The Body Keeps the Score, "Our intrinsic need for social support isn't optional; it's foundational to prevention and healing." While mutual-aid communities, such as the 12-step fellowships, have been lifesavers for many, their religious or spiritual undertones might sometimes act as barriers, preventing deeper engagement.

The Complex Web of Coexisting Mental Health Issues

Addiction doesn't operate in isolation. It often coexists with other mental health battles, be it anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Regrettably, the standard combination of talk therapies and medications doesn't always suffice in surmounting these intertwined challenges. Moreover, the silence surrounding these coexisting mental health conditions, especially within platforms like 12-step groups, further exacerbates the problem.

Psychedelics: The Frontier of Addiction Treatment?

In the wake of these conventional treatment shortcomings, the therapeutic world is abuzz with the transformative potential of psychedelics. Psilocybin, for instance, holds promise as it beckons individuals to profound introspection, allowing them to confront and navigate their challenges head-on, fostering a robust foundation for enduring healing and recovery.

a group of people sitting in a circle discussing psilocybin mushrooms as a solution for addiction

5. Psychedelics in Addiction Treatment: A Journey Through Time

An Overlooked Chapter from the 20th Century

In the mid-20th century, some perceived psychedelics not as substances of abuse but as potential therapeutic agents, especially in addiction treatment. Venturing back to the 1950s and extending into the 1960s, psychedelics like LSD were on the cusp of revolutionizing addiction therapy. Far from their current restricted status, researchers actively explored these compounds for their profound potential to mend the deep-seated traumas and disconnections that often manifest as harmful alcohol consumption.

Trailblazers in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

The undulating plains of Saskatchewan, Canada, became the epicenter of this therapeutic renaissance. Here, in 1953, visionary researchers Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer embarked on a pioneering endeavor, harnessing the transformative potential of LSD to rehabilitate individuals ensnared by alcoholism. Their findings? Psychedelic encounters often catalyzed sustained recovery.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, a series of groundbreaking studies ensued, carving the path for today's psychedelic research paradigm. These foundational investigations shed light on the optimal settings and methodologies to harness psychedelics' therapeutic might.

Furthermore, the introspective nature of the psychedelic voyage, as observed by Osmond and Hoffer, functioned as a mirror. It nudged patients towards profound self-reflection, heightened self-awareness, and, consequently, the cessation of alcohol consumption. A researcher articulates the transformative experiences: "A recurrent theme among participants was the sensation of being granted a fresh start in life, coupled with profound insights into their challenges, culminating in a fervent commitment to abstain from alcohol."

Echoes from a Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous

Highlighting the intertwined histories of Alcoholics Anonymous and psychedelics, Bill Wilson, the co-founder of this renowned self-help group, postulated that LSD could be the bridge to spiritual awakening. He surmised that through such transformative experiences, individuals could tap into a strength beyond their own, aiding their journey to sobriety.

Reassessing Past Triumphs in a New Era

Fast forward to 2012, a comprehensive meta-analysis revisited those initial, promising forays into psychedelic-aided therapy for alcohol addiction. The findings were spectacular after evaluating the therapeutic outcomes for 536 participants from these early trials. 59% of participants severed their ties with alcohol after a singular LSD session. In this ever-evolving therapeutic landscape, the history of psychedelics underscores the importance of reevaluating past knowledge.

6. Psilocybin's Promising Role in Addiction Treatment: A Decade in Review

Introduction to Psilocybin's Therapeutic Potential

Over the past ten years, scientific interest has surged toward the role of psilocybin in addiction treatment. Drawing inspiration from the successful LSD studies of yesteryears, researchers theorized that psilocybin could offer therapeutic effects comparable to LSD. Two primary factors have driven psilocybin to the forefront of psychedelic research:

  1. Reduced Stigma: Psilocybin is perceived with less societal prejudice than LSD, facilitating easier research approvals.
  1. Duration of Action: Psilocybin's effects are shorter-lived than LSD but without compromising its therapeutic efficacy.

Central to this exploration is understanding addiction not just as a physical dependency but, as Dr. Mate articulates, comprehending the underlying pain that fuels it: "Not why the addiction, but why the pain?"

A Closer Look at Notable Psilocybin Studies

Psilocybin and Cigarette Addiction (2014)

  • Researchers: Dr. Matthew Johnson and Dr. Albert Garcia-Romeu
  • Objective: Examine psilocybin's efficacy in aiding cigarette cessation.
  • Methodology: Fifteen heavy smokers, with an average smoking history spanning decades and six attempts at quitting, underwent a 15-week program. This program integrated two psilocybin sessions (weeks five and seven) and preparatory therapy.
  • Outcomes: Notably, 80% (12 out of 15) of participants remained cigarette-free at the six-month follow-up. After one year, 10 participants still abstained from smoking.

Psilocybin and Alcohol Dependence (2015)

  • Researcher: Dr. Michael Bogenschutz
  • Objective: Assess the potential of psilocybin in treating alcoholism.
  • Methodology: Over 12 weeks, ten participants with alcohol dependence engaged in behavioral therapy, psilocybin preparation, and two psilocybin sessions (weeks four and eight).
  • Outcomes: All participants showcased a substantial reduction in alcohol consumption post-psilocybin administration. Dr. Bogenschutz highlighted a strong correlation between the intensity of psilocybin experiences and the success rates, underscoring the mystical nature of the experience as a transformative factor.

While the studies above illuminate the potential of psilocybin in addiction treatment, they represent preliminary small-scale studies. However, they've laid the foundation for more rigorous research endeavors. Notably, 2021 saw the initiation of a phase II trial examining psilocybin's impact on alcohol dependence, promising a deeper dive into this therapeutic domain.

old woman

7. What Makes Psilocybin Effective in Addiction Treatment?

What Makes Psilocybin Effective in Addiction Treatment?

Recent studies diving into psilocybin's potential for addiction treatment have raised an essential question: Why does this potent psychedelic offer such profound assistance in abstaining from long-standing substance dependencies?

Mystical and Spiritual Experiences:

One of the primary observations from these studies indicates that many participants deriving the most significant benefits had profound mystical experiences. Such experiences help individuals rise above their constrained self-awareness, instilling a realization of being part of a vast universe. This sentiment parallels the beliefs central to the 12-step program, especially the core principle of Step 2, which emphasizes seeking help from a power greater than oneself.

Seeking Purpose and Meaning:

Mystical encounters during psilocybin sessions can shift individuals' perspectives, emphasizing life's deeper meanings. As they embrace a broader worldview, the fleeting satisfaction from substance abuse seems less appealing. Drs. Garcia-Romeu and Johnson, from the 2014 nicotine addiction study, remarked on the correlation between personal revelations during psilocybin sessions and decreased tobacco temptation.

Unraveling the Subconscious:

Psychedelic experiences, courtesy of psilocybin, allow us to glimpse the recesses of our subconscious. This revelation enables individuals to confront challenges from traumatic events, challenging relationships, or deep-seated behavioral patterns. As these insights help address underlying issues like anxietydepression, and potentially PTSD—often linked to addiction—the path to recovery becomes clearer.

Self-awareness and Resolve:

With psilocybin, the journey is twofold. Firstly, it aids in acknowledging the root of one's challenges. Then, it assists in fostering determination and a life purpose that counters addiction and its consequential behaviors.

Nurturing Compassion:

Research suggests that psilocybin might enhance openness and compassion, fostering a more profound acceptance of harsh realities and nurturing self-care. For many, this shift can evolve from self-centeredness and detachment to an empathetic outlook and a stronger community connection.

As the scientific community delves deeper into the world of magic mushrooms, the intricacies of how psilocybin aids addiction treatment continue to unfold, shedding light on its multifaceted benefits. The therapeutic promise of psilocybin might be the next frontier in holistic addiction treatment.

a person sitting on a bed succesfully treating addiction with psilocybin mushrooms

The Psilocybin Path: A Journey Beyond the Quick Fix in Addiction Treatment

Understanding the Psilocybin Experience

Psilocybin and other psychedelics aren't magical pills promising instant solutions. As alluring as it might sound, envisioning a psilocybin journey as a panacea overlooks the therapeutic journey's complex nature. This psychedelic quest is often the inaugural step towards a broader spiritual awakening, nudging us to confront and address our intrinsic challenges. A Zen proverb encapsulates this beautifully: "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." Post-psilocybin, life is perceived through a lens of enhanced empathy and insight.

Awakening to Deeper Realizations

Psilocybin's influence extends beyond mere transcendental experiences. It prompts deep-seated epiphanies, evoking overwhelming sensations of gratitude and fulfillment. By unveiling the intricate web of causes and consequences of addiction, psilocybin paves the way for nurturing healthier, affectionate attitudes towards ourselves and the larger universe. These revelations are pivotal in dismantling the entrenched negativity and behavioral patterns perpetuating addiction.

Translating Insight into Action

However transformative, these insights call for deliberate integration into one's daily existence to foster enduring transformation. Shedding long-held beliefs and behaviors demands audacity. For instance, while the psychedelic voyage might highlight addiction's emotional toll on loved ones, the newfound empathy and clarity triggered by psilocybin can propel one toward a decisive resolution to abstain. Similarly, another individual might discern that untreated mental health issues are their addiction's driving force. Empowered by this newfound cognizance, they could opt for therapeutic interventions, mindfulness practices, or fostering deeper human connections.

Embracing the Healing Power of Psilocybin

At its core, psilocybin is an instrument of enlightenment, providing an initial touchstone of self-awareness. Yet, to truly metamorphose our existence, proactive measures born from these insights are indispensable. Psilocybin's true essence lies in its ability to foster compassionate, open-minded, and constructive mental states. It bridges our connection to self, peers, and the environment, promoting holistic healing. This profound interconnectedness, perhaps, epitomizes psilocybin's unparalleled potency in addressing substance addiction.

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