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  • Writer's pictureMartin Polanco

Psilocybin for Addiction Treatment

Originally posted May 11, 2020

On the Use of Psilocybin for Addiction Treatment

Psychedelic substances are now becoming the newest approach for addiction treatment in the 21st century. Over the last 20 years these powerful, mind-altering substances are being studied by scientists for their medicinal effects in the treatment of addiction, depression and anxiety. The use of psychedelic drugs in therapy has been documented since the 1950’s in search of finding new ways to treat mental illness. In the 1960’s psychedelics became linked with pleasure-seeking, hippies and dangerous behavior, with these negative associations, cultural attitudes toward psychedelics changed. In the 1970’s, the controlled substances act was signed in fear of rampant drug use, and all psychedelic scientific research in the U.S. stopped.

Psilocybin is one of the psychedelics that is being studied for their healing effects in the areas of addiction treatment, as well as for therapeutic effects on those suffering from depression and anxiety.

Psilocybin and psilocin are chemical compounds that come from certain types of dried or fresh hallucinogenic mushrooms found in Mexico, South America and the southern and northwest regions of the United States. Psilocybin is classified as an indole-alkylamine (tryptamine). There are over 180 species of mushrooms that contain the chemicals psilocybin or psilocin. Psilocybin mushrooms have been used in the Americas for spiritual and divinatory ceremonies before the Spanish arrived. The use of psilocybin mushrooms can be traced back to prehistory, there are images in murals and rock paintings in Spain and Algeria, depicting psilocybin mushrooms that suggest their use.

The Psilocybin Experience

Psilocybin produces an experience of sensory overload, with many colors and patterns. The person may experience an alternative view of reality, in which boundaries of individual consciousness are expanded and you feel a sense of oneness and connectedness with everything. A psilocybin experience has powerful transformative psychological effects. Recent research has found that this effect happens because the brain becomes “hyperconnected” and allows for increased communication between different regions.

In a study analyzing the effects of psilocybin on the brain with imaging techniques, they found that the default mode network (DMN) was inactive. The DMN is part of our normal consciousness, it’s what gives coherence to cognition by connecting different parts of the brain and it’s the creator of the self. While on psilocybin an alternate network of consciousness seemed to arise providing a strong sense of interconnectedness, as well as spiritual, magical and supernatural feelings. From this alternate mode of consciousness new sensations and thoughts arise, new sensations and realizations are experienced. Experiencing this change in consciousness can lead to lasting changes and wellbeing, even after the psilocybin wears off.

Psilocybin activates specific serotonin receptors: 5-HT2A which causes hallucinogenic effects. It also activates dopamine pathways in the brain and the sympathetic, fight-or-flight system in higher doses. Psilocybin has long-lasting effects on the brain and its plasticity by changing gene expression, a result of activating 5-HT2A receptors.

To have a healing experience with psilocybin it is important to have an intention, take the appropriate dosage and be in a setting that is supportive and safe. Sometimes frightening experiences can be part of the visionary journey, though these can be minimized by having appropriate setting and care. The more challenging experiences may be a necessary part of the transformation process that can be fully integrated after the psilocybin session with a coach/therapist.

Psilocybin is safe when taken in a supportive, controlled environment with guidance and care of professionals. Taking a higher dose of psilocybin may cause anxiety or fear due to feelings of ego dissolution or lack of control, it is important to consider the necessary therapeutic dose for a transformative experience.

A psilocybin treatment for addiction is conducted in a safe setting and under professional supervision. The experience can last for up to 6 hours once the psilocybin dose has been ingested. Participants must have an intention which will help guide the psychedelic experience. Medical staff and psychedelic facilitators are present and continuously monitoring and supporting the participant.

The profound and lasting spiritual experience that a psilocybin session may produce has immense value for the healing and wellbeing of anyone who has suffered from trauma. The power of psilocybin mushrooms to facilitate a state of bliss, higher understanding and interconnection with the universe, may heal trauma, change unhealthy thought patterns, release stress and improve mood.

Research on Psilocybin Treatment for Addiction

Recent research on the use of psilocybin for addiction has shown impressive outcomes, where individuals who suffered from alcohol dependence and/or nicotine addiction, experience improvement in their need for those substances. Studies showed that the mystical experience induced by the psilocybin mushroom had a meaningful and long lasting effect in reducing addiction problems.

In 2012, the Heffter Research Institute started a research on the use of psilocybin for the treatment of alcoholism. The study included 10 participants who after two sessions with psilocybin showed highly significant improvements in alcohol use and life-satisfaction.

Johns Hopkins University tested the ability of psilocybin to stop nicotine addiction with impressive results. The trial included 15 participants, 80% of them remained abstinent after three sessions with psilocybin. A survey of 358 participants showed that the use of psilocybin or other psychedelics helped in the process of quitting or reducing smoking nicotine. Participants also reported having less severe withdrawal symptoms including depression and cravings after taking psilocybin or other psychedelic.

At the University of Alabama there’s a trial for psilocybin assisted therapy for cocaine users that is currently underway. The goal of the trial is to create a tool or drug that significantly improves the outcomes for individuals addicted to cocaine. Participants are given a dose of psilocybin and monitored for about 6 hours. After the treatment the participant is monitored by researchers to track cocaine use.

Johns Hopkins research has also included studying healthy volunteers, which has helped in understanding the enduring positive effects of psilocybin and provided unique insight into neurophysiological mechanisms of action, this supports further understanding on consciousness and on optimizing therapeutic enduring positive effects.

Psilocybin therapy works in the areas of the physical body, the psychological self and the spiritual being. In the physical body it disrupts the receptors in the brain that are thought to be responsible for reinforcing addictive behaviors. Psychologically it reduces cravings, improves mood, increases a sense of one’s self-efficacy and increases motivation. Spiritually it increases a sense of purpose and a feeling of oneness with a higher power.

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