Can Psychedelic Drugs Help to Combat Addiction?

Not many people realise that LSD has been around since the 1930s. It was manufactured and distributed in the 1940s and 50s as a drug with therapeutic uses for certain psychiatric conditions. Not until LSD became a recreational drug in the 1960s was it outlawed in the US and Europe. Now, new research hearkening back to the last century is making the case that psychedelic drugs similar to LSD might be helpful in combating addiction.

One of the most promising drugs is known as Psilocybin. This drug is the same compound that gives magic mushrooms their psychedelic effect. It is similar to LSD in that it affects the same part of the brain, but the duration of the psychedelic effect is considerably less. Psilocybin lasts for about six hours while LSD can go for 10 to 12.

The other benefit of using Psilocybin as an addiction treatment is that it is not normally associated with recreational use. If that reality can be maintained, researchers believe they might be able to come up with a viable pharmaceutical product that can help people overcome everything from smoking to alcoholism to crack addiction.

Freeing the Brain

Some experts believe psychedelics may be helpful for treating addiction because these free the brain from the negative thought patterns associated with addictive behaviour. If they are right, the early results seen in a small number of clinical tests make perfect sense. Allow us to explain.

Drug abuse and addiction change the way the brain functions at multiple levels. By interrupting the neurotransmitters within the brain for example, these chemical compounds not only alter how the body physically works, they also alter the way the brain thinks. This is why addicts routinely find themselves struggling with anxiety, depression and other negative thoughts and emotions. Recovering from addiction is often termed as ‘breaking free’ because these negative thoughts and emotions must be overcome.

Psychedelic drugs repress an area of the brain where Serotonin 2 receptors are located. In doing so, they also slow down the activity of another area of the brain known as the default mode network (DMN). It is believed that the DMN is responsible for the deeply rooted thoughts and emotions we are not necessarily cognizant of, including those negative thoughts associated with addiction and depression.

By reducing brain activity in the DMN, researchers believe the brain is free to think more positively and rationally. Combining this sort of treatment with cognitive behavioural therapy can effectively retrain a person’s brain to think so that it is no longer subject to cravings and mental/emotional dependence.

More trials are needed to determine whether psychedelics can truly be effective for addiction treatment or not. Early data looks promising, but the results are not yet conclusive enough to qualify as positive proof. If future studies do show psychedelics to be effective, it will give treatment providers yet another tool in the battle against addiction.

Our only concern is that psychedelic drugs could become a substitute treatment, as methadone has become, rather than a drug that is combined with counselling and other psychotherapeutic treatments for the purposes of permanently overcoming an addiction. As long as treatment providers are careful to use psychedelics correctly, they could be very helpful. Used incorrectly, they could cause an already difficult problem to be made even worse.

Addiction helper is here to assist you if you are struggling with drugs or alcohol. Please call our 24-hour helpline to speak with one of our counsellors today. We will help you get the treatment you need to overcome your prescription stimulants addiction.


  1. Pharmaceutical Journal
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