Advocates of hallucinogens claim that substances that alter the conscious may be a key to treating mental illness and can be more effective than some prescription drugs. There has been a resurgence of interest in psychedelic research in the last few years with promising results. However, treatments using restricted Schedule 1 drugs like psilocybin are legal only for limited research at this time.

Dr. David E. Nichols, psychedelic research expert and co-founder of The Heffter Research Institute, explains:

“We have been able to accomplish so much in such a relatively short time. Psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, is proving a prodigious treatment for anxiety, depression, addiction, and one study even found it might lead to neurogenesis, or the regrowth of brain cells.”

This is great news for the hopeful development of successful new treatment options for common mental health issues. What is the evidence supporting such claims? Here is a list of recent studies.

  • In a study by Dr. Michael Bogenschutz, at the University of New Mexico, researchers gave psilocybin-assisted therapy to 10 volunteers with alcohol dependence. Drinking decreased significantly beginning in the second month of treatment, after psilocybin was administered, and improvement remained significant for an additional six months of follow-up.
  • A study by Dr. Matthew Johnson at Johns Hopkins, administered psilocybin within a 15-week smoking cessation treatment. Participants were 15 healthy smokers with a mean of six previous lifetime quit attempts who were smoking an average of 19 cigarettes per day for 31 years. Measures of smoking behavior showed that 12 of the 15 participants (80 percent) were no longer smoking at six-month follow-up.
  • In a study at the Imperial College London, scientists found psilocybin reduced blood flow to the cingulate cortex, the region of the brain responsible for extreme thoughts or behavior.

These few, small studies indicate that psilocybin could produce great results. Much more research involving larger groups will be needed to conclusively prove the positive benefits of the therapeutic use of hallucinogens, particularly psilocybin. Three-phase drug studies with FDA approval will also have to be completed before these types of drugs can be removed from the list of substances with no medical purpose. Safety and quality control are always important and will also need much more research.

The problem is that pharmaceutical companies are not interested in researching an inexpensive substance that has been around for a long time. There is no money to be made with a non-patentable drug that is given only once or twice in a lifetime.There is the sad dilemma. Research of hallucinogens at this time is primarily done by non-profit organizations. Fortunately, holistic approaches are becoming acceptable in main-stream science today, and hopefully enlightened medical scientists will prevail over profit-seeking.

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Constance Scharff is the Senior Addiction Research Fellow and Director of Addiction Research for Cliffside Malibu. She is also the coauthor of the Amazon.com bestselling book Ending Addiction for Good with Richard Taite.

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