Researchers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham are currently enrolling participants for a trial investigating psilocybin, the active compound in psychedelic mushrooms, for cocaine addiction.
Psilocybin has already shown promise in treating alcoholism and cigarette addiction in small, clinical trials at University of New Mexico, Johns Hopkins University, and New York University. Unlike with alcohol and nicotine, there’s currently no medication on the market to help people quit cocaine.
In a 2017 review of the research looking at psilocybin for substance abuse disorder, the authors concluded that psilocybin may work by alleviating the underlying depression and anxiety that causes addiction. As the psilocybin itself—administered in a room with a therapist—only lasts about six hours, researchers hypothesize that it’s the way tripping changes a person’s thinking, not the drug itself, that holds the potential for healing. This is why, they believe, psilocybin—unlike pharmaceuticals designed for one particular condition—could treat conditions ranging from eating disorders to criminal recidivism.
“If our hypotheses are supported, this has the potential to revolutionize the fields of psychology and psychiatry in terms of how we treat addiction,” Sara Lappan, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Health Behavior, said in a story put out by the University of Alabama, Birmingham.
In a follow-up last year with participants from the smoking cessation study, 60%— or nine—of the 15 participants were still no longer smoking cigarettes after 12 months. Perhaps more remarkably, 86.7% of them ranked the psilocybin sessions among the five most meaningful or spiritually significant experiences of their lives. Researchers have found a direct correlation between how spiritual participants feel their trips were and the extent to which those trips offer them long-term healing, whether that’s from substance abuse or depression.
The cocaine study at the University of Alabama, Birmingham has currently enlisted nearly 20 of the study’s desired 40 participants. The university is one of six institutions conducting psilocybin trials including Imperial-College London, University of California-San Francisco, and Yale. Their work is considered a part of the “psychedelic renaissance,” a resurgence of psychedelic drug research which began in the early 2000s after it had been banned for decades in the U.S. There’s also currently preliminary efforts underway in California, Oregon, and Colorado to legalize or decriminalize psilocybin.