19 April 2016

Could Psychedelics Be Used for Addiction Treatment in the Future?

When it comes to addiction treatment, there are a plethora of methods and techniques that are used by today’s counsellors, therapists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and others in the addiction treatment arena. Some of these can include one-to-one counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, motivational interviewing, group therapy, or 12-step work, and most agree that these are some of the most effective treatments for tackling illnesses such as drug addiction, alcoholism and eating disorders.

However, it might surprise you to hear that some researchers believe that LSD (a Class A illegal drug) could be used effectively to treat a range of conditions including addiction, depression, and anxiety.

Medical Benefits and Cultural Stigma

The medical benefits of using psychedelics is something that has been bandied about for decades, with thousands of papers published on the subject in the 1960s. Nevertheless, for the first time, researchers can now visualise the way that LSD can alter the way the brain functions, and they believe it could revolutionise the way that certain conditions are treated.

Researchers from Imperial College London carried out a study on twenty participants, concluding that they have found that LSD can break down barriers between those areas of the brain responsible for movement, hearing and vision.

Nonetheless, there are concerns that social stigma could cause a problem with the research, just as it did in the sixties when these studies were halted because of fears over the recreational use of the drug.

Bad Press

Many scientists in the fifties and sixties believed that psychedelics could help them to get a better idea of how the brain worked, which could have led to more effective treatments at the time. However, with the growing number of individuals taking LSD for recreational use, and the press focusing on the negative effects of the drug, there were calls for the research to be banned. Press coverage rarely told the story of how the drug could be used for scientific advances, so it was not long before psychedelics were made illegal. California was the first US state to ban the drug, with a state-wide ban coming into effect in 1971.

New Research

Research into the benefits of psychedelics did not resume until 1999, at which time a group of scientists at Baltimore’s John Hopkins University carried out a study into psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms). The results of this study were published in 2006 and, since then, there have been a number of other studies into the use of psychedelics, with startling results.

This new research by the team at Imperial College London has found that psilocybin was effective in the treatment of severe depression in twenty patients. All other treatments had proven unsuccessful, but when treated with psilocybin, every one of the twenty patients showed some improvement.

In another study by a team at Johns Hopkins University, psilocybin was effective in the reduction of anxiety in patients with terminal cancer. A different study found that after just three treatments with psilocybin, 80% of fifteen life-long smokers had given up their habit.

How it Works

The theory behind treatment with the drug is that it has an effect on a part of the brain that chooses what does and does not enter consciousness. Scientists are of the opinion that this could allow the brain to break the cycle of addictive or maladaptive behaviour.

According to Amanda Fielding, who is head of The Beckley Foundation, treatment with psilocybin could be “an enormous aid in psychotherapy, particularly illnesses associated with very rigid thought patterns, like depression, anxiety, addiction and OCD, because LSD produces a looser form of consciousness.”

Nevertheless, even with the positive results from psychedelic trials, it is unlikely that mainstream use as an addiction treatment will become a reality anytime soon as so many campaigners are against their use. There is just too much history and stigma attached to the drug for it to become an acceptable treatment for addiction just yet.

Nonetheless, with more research and trials, there could come a day when psychedelics become another effective method for treating conditions such as depression, anxiety and addiction.


  1. BBC

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