There’s a lot of reason to be concerned over the rising opioid epidemic. In the United States, enough opioids are prescribed for every single adult to have a bottle of pills. Opioid painkillers can come with some serious side effects, including addiction. It’s estimated that a total of between 26.4 million and 30 million people worldwide suffer from opioid dependence. Now, a new study suggests a radical new approach to opioid addiction: psychedelic therapy.
Can psychedelics reduce opioid addiction?
Of all of the psychedelic plants and fungi out there, it’s safe to say that cannabis is fairly mild. Research has shown that cannabis has potent pain-fighting properties, and several studies have shown that patients choose cannabis as an alternative to prescription painkillers, like opioids.
But, what about other psychedelics? The substances have been taboo and frowned upon for decades, but mind-bending compounds are getting another chance at fame with some impressive recent research. Over the past two years, reports have come out which suggest that using psychedelics sometime in your lifetime is associated with:
- Reduced risk of domestic violence
- Reduced psychological distress and suicidal thinking
- Fewer prescriptions for psychiatric medications
- Reduced outpatient treatments for mental health issues
While the idea that a psychedelic substance can improve mental health may sound just a little too radical for some. But, a recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests that the mind-bending compounds may be beneficial in another surprising therapeutic area, opioid addiction.
The study found that psychedelic consumption was associated with a 27% reduction in opioid dependence over the past year. The substances were also associated with a whopping 40% reduction in opioid addiction.
This research is supported by an earlier review with a different substance, alcohol. In 2012, a meta-analysis of the available literature suggested that LSD may be beneficial for those with alcohol addiction.
The review looked at six studies in total, which featured 536 participants. The most interesting part? Just a single dose of LSD was associated with a decrease in alcohol misuse.
While the cannabis plant is often touted as a safer alternative to opioids, these psychedelic drugs seem to tackle addiction in a different way. Cannabis has direct pain-relieving effects and can improve mood and overall quality of life. Psychedelics like LSD and magic mushrooms, on the other hand, cause euphoric and spiritual experiences.
Is psychedelic therapy safe?
Unfortunately, the safety of psychedelics is a bit questionable. For one, there is no way to be 100% sure about what you’re getting from psychedelics that aren’t administered in a clinic. Yet, there is a growing amount of research on psychedelic therapy that is quite promising.
Thus far, recent clinical trials of psilocybin have been found effective and well-tolerated in treating the anxiety and depression associated with a cancer diagnosis. Additional trials of a common party drug, MDMA, found early success in reducing symptoms of treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, the products given to patients in trials are a far cry from what is commonly sold on the street. In the clinic, pharmaceutical-grade materials are used, not random material acquired from an unknown source.
Further, trials thus far have been conducted in very comfortable, safe, and relaxed environment with trusted professionals close at hand.
Without professional help, consumers can face some risks when experimenting with these illicit substances in the home. For example, one early case reports that eight consumers snorted an abnormally large dose of LSD and had to be hospitalized.
The consumers experienced hallucinations, hyperactivity, hypothermia, vomiting, bleeding, and physical collapse.
Symptoms started within 15 minutes of snorting more than two lines of white powder, which they thought contained cocaine. Though, it was unclear what the second line of random white powder actually was.
When blood tested, the patients tested positive for LSD. Was that the sole cause of the extreme side effects? Who knows.