Psychedelics with and without accompanying psychotherapy have been found to reduce symptoms associated with at least eight different psychiatric diagnoses, a new scientific review reports.
“The conditions treated ranged from depression to autism, with the largest volume of research dedicated to substance use disorders,” the paper states. “The majority of studies that were reviewed demonstrated significant associations with improvement in the conditions investigated.”
While the authors noted that “it was difficult to draw definitive conclusions as most studies suffered from small sample sizes, inconsistent measures, and poor study design,” the concluded that “this body of pilot literature suggests the possibility of therapeutic benefit that could outweigh adverse events and warrants more rigorous, definitive investigation.”
The findings were published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice earlier this month.
Last year, an estimated 5.6 million Americans reported using hallucinogens, which are illegal, though federal agencies have acknowledged their potential medical value. To better understand how these psychedelic substances may help people, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio reviewed clinical studies that involved ayahuasca, ibogaine, ketamine, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or ecstasy) and psilocybin.
The review’s authors focused on 16 studies published between 1946 and 2017. Here’s a look at some of their findings:
- In two related studies, patients who were diagnosed with recurrent major depressive disorder saw their symptoms reduced with a single dose of ayahuasca. Though the psychedelic substance was generally well-tolerated, half of study participants experienced vomiting.
- Patients with alcohol use disorder who were given a high dose of dipropyltryptamine while attending therapy for multiple weeks “demonstrated significant improvement on multiple rating scales, including depression, self-regard, and insight” during post-testing, the review states.
- In a study of 75 participants with alcohol, cannabis and cocaine use disorders, 61 percent reported abstaining from their substance of choice for an average of five months after being treated with ibogaine and behavioral therapy.
- Researchers found that ketamine-assisted psychotherapy helped more people abstain from alcohol abuse than those who underwent the same three-month psychotherapy course without the hallucinogen. “The authors,” the review states, “reported treating over 1000 patients with ketamine psychotherapy without any reports of prolonged psychosis, flashbacks, agitation, or ketamine abuse.”
- Patients diagnosed with alcohol use disorder may find it easier to abstain from drinking with a single dose of LSD than daily use of other common medications used to treat the disorder, according to a meta-analysis reviewing six randomized controlled trials.
- A small study found that higher MDMA dosage with therapy appeared to impact chronic PTSD symptoms related to sexual trauma more than lower doses of the substance.
- Another small study found that patients with varying cancers and related anxiety saw their anxiety and depressive symptoms reduced after a moderate dose of psilocybin, though the effects were not “statistically significant” until six months after administration. Researchers also found that patients experienced a short-lived increase in heart rate and blood pressure after taking psilocybin.
“In 15 of the 16 studies, it was reported that hallucinogen monotherapy or augmentation therapy produced clinically significant reduction in symptomatology,” the review states. “Many of these improvements occurred in subjects who had previously failed to respond to traditional treatments. Furthermore, many studies demonstrated improvement in less time than commonly observed with traditional psychopharmacology or therapy.”
Additionally, the review‘s authors found that all but one of the eight studies that examined how psychedelics may affect substance use disorders reported “significant benefits.”
“While the successes reported in the studies reviewed here are intriguing, they should not be misinterpreted as an endorsement for the use of hallucinogens to medicate any of the above conditions,” the authors wrote. “This review was inherently biased by the selection criteria, and dangers of hallucinogenic drug use were not the focus of this review. This should not, however, distract from the potential benefits described.”
The review concluded by pointing out structural barriers to expanded research on psychedelics.
“Despite promising findings in therapeutic hallucinogen trials, current factors, including funding, laws, and stigma, continue to impose limitations on further research,” they wrote. “Schedule 1 classification makes study development difficult, costly, and prolonged. Funding by both government and pharmaceutical companies is nonexistent.”
Photo courtesy of Pretty Drugthings.