Can Psychedelics Treat Drug and Alcohol Addiction?

By Laura Smart - Last Updated: July 27, 2023 | All Sources

Clinically Reviewed on January 23, 2023 by Dr Alexander Lapa.

Can Psychedelics Treat Drug and Alcohol Addiction?

Drug addiction and alcoholism are widespread problems in society. Like other diseases, substance abuse can affect anyone of any background, age and culture, and new addiction treatments are being researched to try to help overcome widespread substance abuse.

People recognise that addiction is a growing problem, and addiction treatment has moved forward dramatically over the last few decades. Acceptance and a focus on rehab treatment and medication to assist detox has helped many people to achieve long-term recovery.

To continue overcoming drug or alcohol addiction and achieving better results, researchers have begun looking for different types of addiction treatment, including psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Although psychedelics have been banned in the UK and classified as Class A drugs, under medical use there is recent research into the effectiveness of psychedelic therapy in treating addiction and mental health disorders.

Now that psychedelic drugs are being considered more and more in the scientific community as a possible tool in the fight against drug and alcohol addiction, learn more about the potential treatments for drug and alcohol addiction.


What Are Psychedelics?

Psychedelics, also known as hallucinogens, are a group of drugs that create changes in a person’s perceptions when they take the drug. Many psychedelics come from fungi and plants such as certain mushrooms and cacti.

Psychedelics have been used by humans for thousands of years to achieve a different state of mind. Indigenous peoples such as the Native Americans used psychedelics in religious rituals.

LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) was discovered in 1943 and embraced by psychiatrists to help treat mood disorders. Despite this, LSD became a symbol of the left-wing, anti-war movement in the latter half of the 20th century and as they became politicised, psychedelics were swiftly banned and viewed negatively.

Despite this, psychedelic therapy is being considered for a new and effective way to treat addiction. The most common psychedelics being explored as alcohol and drug rehabilitation treatment are LSD, DMT, ketamine and psilocybin.

Despite being highly regulated, psychedelics are not considered to be addictive, and it is unlikely you would become physically dependent on them. However there are some risks to them, such as the potential of long-term users to suffer emotionally from bad trips and experience depression and anxiety. In rare cases, people have flashbacks to bad experiences months, years and decades later.


How Do Psychedelics Work?

Psychedelics alter your perceptions by affecting the prefrontal cortex in your brain. This part of the brain has a say on your perception, mood, and cognition.

If you take a psychedelic, you may hear and see things that are not there. Depending on the type of psychedelic you take, the effects can take a while to come on and can last for up to 12 hours.

The effects of these drugs are unpredictable. Your mood, the setting and what you are expecting can all have effects on the experience. If you are scared and in an unfamiliar place, then you may have a bad trip – which can be very unpleasant.

Can Psychedelics Treat Addiction?

Through seeing things and experiencing something apart from reality, some people have epiphanies about themselves or gain a greater understanding of their life. Having a change of mood and being more open to the exploration of your mind could prove very useful when dealing with an addiction.

Therapy for addiction is an extremely beneficial form of treatment, which is why it is recommended for people who suffer from the condition. Treatments such as ketamine assisted psychedelic therapy are also currently being tested as a form of addiction treatment.

By opening the mind and understanding the root causes of addiction, people are able to overcome the disease.


Which Psychedelics Treat Addiction?

In recent years there have been several studies looking at the effectiveness of psychedelics addiction treatment. Treatments such as ketamine assisted psychedelic therapy are currently being tested to help people suffering from severe addiction or mental health problems overcome their condition. See psychedelic drugs below:

Psilocybin Psychedelic Treatment

A recent study, led by doctors at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, looked at how psilocybin and therapy could work together to help reduce drinking in people addicted to alcohol. Psilocybin is another term for magic mushrooms and is also being looked at to help treat mental health disorders and Parkinson’s. The study had positive results, reducing heavy drinking among the participants by 83% on average.

This form of psychedelic treatment is a good option for people who struggle with mental health problems such as depression or anxiety, as well as drug and alcohol addiction.

Ketamine Psychedelic Treatment

The largest trial of ketamine-assisted therapy has been announced, with £2.4 million being invested into the study. This is due to positive results from the Ketamine for Reduction of Alcohol Relapse (KARE) trial that was led by the University of Exeter. Using low doses of ketamine and therapy found that people with addiction were 2.5 times more likely to stay clean at the end of the trial compared to those in the placebo group.

You may be wondering ‘can ketamine break addiction?’ for yourself or a loved one. These initial studies show promising signs that ketamine can break the cycle of addiction.

Ibogaine Psychedelic Treatment

DemeRx and Atai Life Sciences announced a joint study in 2021. They aimed to explore the treatment of opioids with ibogaine, a psychedelic drug found in the root bark of the iboga tree. This is off the back of a large study in the West Indies led by the CEO of DemeRx. Ibogaine reduced cravings and depression and this continued after a one-month follow-up.

These tests all indicate that psychedelics treat drug and alcohol addiction and are a viable alternative to traditional rehabilitation treatment for addiction.


How Does Psilocybin Therapy Work?

Psilocybin is emerging as the frontrunner in this battle between psychedelic drugs.

It works by activating serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is important in mood regulation and more of it can make you feel happier. It is preferred as a treatment drug as it takes effect quicker, within 30 minutes, than other psychedelics and only lasts from 4-6 hours.

Psilocybin can cause euphoria, calmness, distort your visual and audio perception and provide a dream-like sensation. Psilocybin can be effective in addiction treatment as it allows you to think outside yourself and have visceral experiences that can deeply affect you.


The Future of Addiction Treatment with Psychedelics

With more positive results from studies, the conversation around psychedelics will start to change. As opinions about the use of psychedelics to treat addiction develop, psychedelics may become an important part of treatment in alcohol and drug rehabs.

In some places, psychedelic drugs are already being used to treat addiction. In the USA, psilocybin has been decriminalised in several states, and Oregon and Colorado have legalised it for use in mental health treatment.

Psychedelic therapy UK research is not moving forward as quickly but the pressure is continuing to mount on the government to reclassify psychedelics for addiction treatment. This will help more research occur, and progress comes when there is more data to sift through so that better conclusions can be made.

Positive results from psychedelic studies have already helped some progress be made. Awakn is a company providing psychedelic-assisted therapy for addicts in clinics they have opened in London and Bristol. They could begin a trend towards this type of therapy that would help many people get clean and stay that way.


Find Out More About Psychedelic Therapy

Rehab Clinics Group provide residential addiction treatment in centres all over the country. In our facilities, you can gain access to a range of treatment options that include medically assisted detoxification and various therapies.

If you want to know more, contact us at 0800 470 0382 or text HELP to 83222.