In contrast to occasional, recreational, or therapeutic use of a substance, continued use that impacts on a person’s physical and mental health, social situation, and/or responsibilities can be classified as misuse or addiction. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is defined as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social, and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviours.” Included in this definition are legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco, as well as currently illicit substances.
For many substances, current treatments are moderately effective at best, and many people continue to struggle with addictions and their consequences, having exhausted existing treatment options. Studies in the 50s and 60s investigated the effectiveness of psychedelics in overcoming addictions, but due to regulatory hurdles, these studies have been stopped for 30 years, despite their promising results. The need to find alternative treatment options is urgent. In addressing this need, our Programme investigates the effectiveness of:
A Beckley-sponsored pilot trial, conducted by Prof Roland Griffiths and Dr Matthew Johnson at Johns Hopkins University, was the first study in modern times to investigate the efficacy of the psychedelic psilocybin as an aid to psychotherapy (as part of a structured 15-week smoking cessation treatment protocol) in overcoming nicotine addiction. The results were extremely promising, with 12 of 15 participants (80%) showing abstinence at 6 month follow-up. This is a substantially higher percentage than commonly reported for any other behavioural or pharmaceutical intervention. Although the study was open-label (subjects knew they were getting psilocybin), it demonstrates the potential of psilocybin as an addition to smoking cessation programmes. A second, larger trial with a brain-imaging component to investigate the neurobiological effects of this approach is currently underway.
A 2012 meta-analysis of the highest quality studies of that era concluded that a single dose of LSD had a significant and long-lasting beneficial effect on alcohol-use disorder; patients who received this treatment were almost twice as likely to improve as patients receiving placebo.
The Beckley Foundation is planning to replicate these findings in a more rigorous modern clinical trial setting, and optimise the protocol for LSD-assisted therapy.
A number of animal studies suggest that CBD (cannabidiol – a non-psychoactive cannabis constituent) may have therapeutic properties that may help treat opioid and psychostimulant addictions. Some preliminary data also suggest that it may be beneficial in cannabis and tobacco addiction in humans.
We are currently collaborating with Prof Celia Morgan at the University of Exeter on a study investigating whether CBD could help smoking cessation.
Addictive Behaviors, April 2013
Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2014
Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 2014
Psilocybin for Depression
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