Most people associate psychedelic drugs with the counterculture culture of the 1960s and 70s or perhaps 90s rave culture. But clinical research has been working to find out if psychedelics cure addiction or at least alleviate some of the challenges of addiction recovery. The results of that research are yielding some surprising results.
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What Are Psychedelics?
Psychedelic drugs, or simply “psychedelics,” are substances that cause changes in perception, mood, and thought. The most well-known examples include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin (the active ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’), and dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
Called “head drugs” by hippie culture, they differ from other recreational drugs in that the emphasis and motive for use is the effects on thought and perception. Whereas “body drugs” like alcohol, opioids, and stimulants are used primarily for their effect on mood and bodily sensations.
Psychedelics have been used for centuries in traditional rituals and spiritual practices in ancient cultures throughout the world, but only recently have scientists begun to investigate the possibility that addiction could be cured with psychedelics.
Examples of psychedelics include:
- LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide)
- Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)
- MDMA (Ecstasy)
- Mescaline (Peyote)
- Ayahuasca/DMT (Dimethyltryptamine)
Where Do Psychedelics Fit Into the Addiction Equation?
This is another question 1st Step Behavioral Health will attempt to answer in this blog. Addiction is a complex issue that affects millions of people worldwide. Traditional treatments like therapy and medication have helped millions overcome substance abuse, but others struggle to maintain recovery.
Addiction medicine is constantly evolving and seeking new solutions to one of humanity’s most significant mental health problems. That’s where the potential of psychedelics comes in. We’ve looked into current studies, medical trials, and expert opinions to see what the consensus is on this question.
Can psychedelics cure addiction, or at least help people overcome and manage it? The research suggests the answer is yes, to the second part of that question. There is no absolute “cure” for addiction, but psychedelics are proving surprisingly helpful under controlled circumstances.
Which Psychedelics Cure Addiction Or Help to Treat It?
We should preface the statement psychedelics cure addiction by saying that addiction is a chronic mental illness. That is, there is no formal ‘cure’ known to medical science. There is no medicine or drug which can make all forms of addiction disappear forever. No “magic pill.”
That said, if an addiction treatment regimen that includes professional administration of psychedelics helps someone achieve long-term sobriety, that is as close as we can get to saying that psychedelics cure addiction.
You might say, psychedelics cure addiction symptoms, especially when they are a part of a comprehensive addiction treatment plan. But it is important to remember that psychedelics also have serious potential side effects, some of which can be long-term.
Let’s take a look at the psychedelic compounds that are of the most interest in addiction treatment:
Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)
One of the most promising psychedelic cures for addiction is psilocybin, a naturally occurring compound found in a number of wild or cultivated fungi collectively known as “magic mushrooms.”
Studies have shown that psilocybin can help individuals overcome nicotine addiction, alcoholism, and depression. Psilocybin works by affecting the brain’s serotonin receptors, which are involved in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep.
However, it’s worth noting that psilocybin can also have potential side effects like nausea, vomiting, and anxiety. This is one of many reasons why psilocybin and any other psychedelic addiction cure should only be attempted with professional supervision.
The idea of using ketamine to treat addiction may seem ironic to some, as many people are more familiar with it as a drug of abuse rather than anything else. The truth is that ketamine began life as an anesthetic drug used mostly for animals.
But research in recent years1 has shown that ketamine is effective in treating both depression and addiction when administered in a controlled clinical environment over a series of sessions. Research is continuing on ketamine treatment for addiction, but the evidence is mounting.
When considering if psychedelics cure addiction, we’d be remiss if we left out ayahuasca, a brew made from the vine of the Banisteriopsis caapi plant and the leaves of the Psychotria viridis plant. Ayahuasca contains DMT, a powerful psychedelic that can induce altered states of consciousness and spiritual experiences.
Some studies have shown that ayahuasca can help treat substance abuse, especially for people battling opioid addiction. However, ayahuasca can also have potential side effects like vomiting and diarrhea, and it has legal and ethical concerns, as it is still illegal in many countries.
The drug ibogaine, which is derived from an alkaloid found in the root bark of a West African shrub, has powerful psychedelic effects. So powerful that it is a controlled substance in the United States and potentially dangerous.
However, it may be the best case for the idea that psychedelics cure addiction of all. Some remarkable results2 have been seen in opioid-addicted people who used ibogaine as little as once in controlled circumstances.
Psychedelics vs. Conventional Addiction Treatment
Now, let’s compare psychedelic treatment with traditional addiction treatments. Traditional treatments like behavioral therapy, medication, and support group meetings have helped millions overcome addiction. However, these approaches don’t necessarily appeal to everyone at first glance.
Some individuals relapse or struggle to maintain recovery even after treatment too. Psychedelic treatment for addiction offers one more potential tool in the battle against substance use disorders.
This different approach provides a profound, transformative experience intended to change one’s perspective on addiction and life. However, psychedelic treatment is not a standalone cure for addiction, and it requires proper safety protocols, preparation, and integration to be effective.
Final Thoughts on Psychedelics and Addiction Treatment
The potential of psychedelics in addiction treatment is a promising area of research. Psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca have shown some positive results in medical trials, but they also have potential side effects and legal and ethical concerns.
We think it’s safe to say that conventional and holistic addiction treatment programs will remain the gold standard for substance use disorder treatment for the foreseeable future. However, psychedelic treatment may become a widespread protocol utilized in traditional treatment centers one day.
It’s important to remember that psychedelics for addiction consists of a single therapy method, whereas a residential treatment program like 1st Step Behavioral Health combines many different therapies and protocols, each of which can be tailored to your specific needs.
Let’s Take the 1st Step Together
1st Step Behavioral Health has over 22 years of experience helping people like you or your loved one overcome addiction and mental health disorders. Give us a call at (855) 425-4846 with any questions you have about mental health or addiction treatment or our facility. You are also welcome to submit your health insurance info for benefits verification using our confidential form here.
- Ketamine for the treatment of addiction: Evidence and potential mechanisms. Ivan Ezquerra-Romano, W Lawn, E Krupitsky, C J A Morgan (2018)
- Ibogaine treatment outcomes for opioid dependence from a Twelve-month follow-up observational study. Geoffrey E Noller, Chris M Frampton, Berra Yazar-Klosinski (2017)