Harvard University researchers recently published a study that found people who have used psilocybin are 30% less likely to have an opioid use disorder compared to those who have never tried it.
With opioid use disorder (OUD) being a major problem, especially in the United States, there is an urgent need to find new and better treatments.
And psychedelics could be one of them.
The researchers looked at data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2015–2019).
Over 200,000 participants provided information about their experience or dependence on opioids in the past year, along with whether they had ever taken classic psychedelic drugs like peyote, LSD or “magic mushrooms” (aka psilocybin) in their lifetime.
The results showed that psilocybin was the only classic psychedelic substance that provided potential protective benefits. Those who used psilocybin were up to 34% less likely to experience 7 of the 11 symptoms linked with opioid dependence and abuse.
Authors of the study, Grant Jones, Jocelyn A. Ricard, Joshua Lipson and Matthew K. Nick said, “These findings accord with other population-based survey research indicating that classic psychedelics share differing relationships to mental health outcomes in naturalistic contexts.”
In simpler terms, different psychedelics like LSD, MDMA, and peyote may be useful in treating particular mental health conditions, but they shared no links with OUD or demonstrated increased odds of developing it.
The reasoning behind why psilocybin may be useful in OUD seems to be down to the effects it has on the transmission of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.
The report states: “Classic psychedelic compounds, including psilocybin, act primarily as serotonin agonists. Abnormal serotonin neurotransmission is linked to many aspects of addiction, such as craving and heightened responses to drug cues.
“Furthermore, there is suggestive evidence that serotonin agonists may support the treatment of opioid addiction as they may indirectly inhibit the release of dopamine27, a key neurotransmitter that is implicated in the maladaptive reward system changes associated with opioid addiction.”
While the new study turned up protective benefits with only psilocybin, the assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Albert Garcia-Romeu says there’s no real good reason to think that one psychedelic would work better than the other.
“There’s been a sort of shroom craze and, as a result, there have been a lot more people looking into using psilocybin for medical and health reasons that you don’t see with some of the other more obscure psychedelics,” he explained.
The report concludes that, “Future clinical trials will be required to test whether this association is causal.
“Our study represents an incremental step towards a greater understanding of factors that may prevent or alleviate opioid use disorder.”