The search for consistency and truth in the often misunderstood, and sometimes bewildering world of psychedelics as an aid in the treatment of addiction.
Recently Health Canada opened the doors for a limited number of physicians to work with psilocybin in treating addiction and its concurrent disorders. It may come to many as a surprise that back in the 1950s in the heyday of psychoanalysis a wide array of what we today would consider being very innovative treatments were being tested. The earliest use of hallucinogens, LSD to be more precise, in the treatment of alcoholism was recorded in 1953 in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. The alcoholism studies, which followed patients for up to two years, showed 50–90 percent recovery rates.
However, it soon became apparent that the lines between cohesive medical studies and recreational use were becoming too blurred for certain legislators and lawmakers of the time, as a result, most of these otherwise promising drugs were labeled as dangerous narcotics, and their use was criminalized by the general public. And while research into a variety of these so-called “Dangerous Psychedelics” for use in the treatment of mental health and addiction disorders continued quietly in research facilities, the Canadian Government changed the regulations, making Psilocybin illegal in 1974, forcing researchers in the scientific and medical communities to apply directly to the federal minister of health for permission to do these studies. A laborious process that all too often resulted in years of applications being submitted, only to be turned down.
Fast forward to 2019 and we find the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research in Baltimore conducting research and clinical trials into the use of psychedelics for a variety of mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, chronic pain and even eating disorders. And most interestingly, a growing body of data points to Psilocybin as the leading contender to treat the intractable disease of substance abuse. Psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, has shown promise in limited early studies, not only in alcohol and harder drugs but also in nicotine — all of which resist long-term treatment. In the studies at Johns Hopkins University, it was found that just two full doses of psilocybin (that is, enough of a dose to produce the full-blown psychedelic effects of a trip) administered on separate occasions under close observation in a lab were enough to help both smokers and people with alcohol dependency to overcome their addictions. Out of 343 people involved in the latter study, 83% no longer met the criteria for alcohol dependency after taking part. For those who work with treating addictions daily, those statistics offer a glimpse of new hope for addiction and a tenacious excitement for what is to come.
The use of pharmaceuticals to treat addiction today.
Currently, Health Canada has signed off on these three drugs for use in treating Opioid addiction and Alcoholism. These drugs are always to be paired with therapy and psychoanalysis and are in no way to be considered stand-alone treatment options.
Approach 1 Reduction: Naltrexone is a prescribed medication used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), and opioid use disorder (OUD). Naltrexone is identified as an opiate antagonist class of drugs, these drugs work by reducing the cravings for alcohol and eliminating the high users get from taking an opioid drug
Approach 2 Revulsion: Disulfiram, another potent treatment drug, is used to treat chronic alcoholism. Disulfiram will bring about very unpleasant effects when even lesser amounts of alcohol are consumed. These effects can include flushing of the face, headache, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, weakness, blurred vision, mental confusion, sweating, choking, breathing difficulty, and anxiety.
Approach 3 Removal: Naltrexone is another drug approved for the treatment of AUD (alcohol use disorder) and opioid addiction. Naltrexone works by removing the euphoric effects and feelings of intoxication (the “buzz”) from alcohol. So people with alcohol use disorder find it much easier to reduce or stop their drinking behaviours enough to stay in treatment, avoid relapses, and take their medication. Over time, their cravings for alcohol significantly decrease.
All three treatment methods are only effective when prescribed as a part of a full recovery and treatment program, sobriety.ca Foundation and her sister facilities Searidge Foundation in Nova Scotia for alcohol and drug addiction may use any or all of these three treatment programs as deemed appropriate on a case by case basis. All treatments offered at our facilities include an industry-leading follow-up in the form of a full year of aftercare, to empower our graduates to remain clean and sober.
When will we see psilocybin used as an aid in treating addiction?
So, when will addiction treatment facilities in Canada be able to offer the use of Psilocybin for drug and alcohol addiction? The jury is as they say still out on this one, while several facilities have been granted limited access and use for clinical trials, it is not a widespread adoption yet. However, it is hopeful that in April of this year Minister of Health Patty Hajdu announced that Health Canada will allow a handful of health care professionals to possess and consume psilocybin mushrooms for treating end-of-life patients and those with depression associated with a terminal diagnosis.
“I also am happy to say that yesterday Health Canada granted exemptions to several health care professionals who wanted to possess and consume mushrooms containing psilocybin,” the health minister said. She described the move as “controversial for some and not for others, but the doctors that prescribe this therapy wanted to understand what it would feel like and how to best use it to help their patients that are struggling.”
Lengthy studies over several years now have shown that psilocybin when used as a treatment for addiction to nicotine has had positive outcomes. And there are many studies underway globally looking toward the use of Psychedelics as a contributing factor in reductions and recovery from mental health disorders and addictions. Researchers at UC San Francisco and Imperial College London were able to demonstrate that Psilocybin fostered greater connections between different regions of the brain in depressed people, freeing them up from long-held patterns of rumination and excessive self-focus.
Since it has been long understood that addiction is not a “weakness of character” but more of a way for the mind to adapt to conditions that it is ill-prepared for. For some addiction begins with an inability to connect to a sense of meaning, value, and purpose in life and in oneself. For others escaping into a world of altered realities is a way to cocoon oneself from trauma, from the past or the present.
Drug addiction is a chronic but treatable disorder with well-understood genetic and social contributors. It is not a sign of a person’s weakness or bad character. Continued or intermittent use of drugs, even by people who know they have a disorder and are trying hard to recover from it, must be acknowledged as part of the reality of the disorder for many who struggle with it. Just as we must stop stigmatizing addiction, we must also stop stigmatizing people who use drugs as being bad or weak, and instead offer them support to help prevent addiction’s most adverse consequences. (1)
However, the addict comes to be we do know that drug and/or alcohol abuse as a form of escape from the pain associated with the experience of living compulsive alcohol and/or drug use can quickly escalate and the addict finds himself unable to limit or stop their intake. Once long-term drug addiction and alcoholism take hold, it changes the brain at a cellular and anatomical level, reducing a person’s ability to resist cravings and fostering dependence. In severe cases, it can cause brain damage and dementia.
“Alcohol essentially removes the executive-function brakes on the brain, leading to cravings, excessive use and tolerance,” says Pamela Walters, a consultant in forensic and addiction psychiatry and director of Forward Trust, substance misuse and mental health charity in the U.K.
Research into the therapeutic and consciousness potential of psilocybin, and the ability to safely prescribe psilocybin in regulated spaces facilitated by a medical team over a series of guided sessions; and as a part of cognitive behavioural therapy, has many who work in the world of addiction treatment cautiously excited.
Researchers from several facilities in the US recently looked into the use of Mushrooms as an aide in treating opioid addiction, their findings were that psilocybin’s use in this context has been growing for a while now. One of the most recent of these studies, published in Scientific Reports on April 7, looked at data from 214,505 U.S. adults in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from 2015 to 2019 and found an association between past use of psilocybin—at any time in their lives—and a reduced risk of opioid use disorder. The researchers looked at 11 criteria that scientists use to diagnose opioid use disorder (for instance, spending a significant amount of time getting and using drugs), and found that past psilocybin use was significantly correlated with lowered odds of seven of the items on the list, and with marginally lowered odds of two others.
Ancient Cures, Traditional Medicines, and a better understanding.
With all this promising forward motion on the front to better understand how Western Medicine can leverage the beneficial attributes of psychedelics, it is important to recognize that many first nations peoples and their traditional medicines have known of and used these substances in the treatment of addictions, depression, along with use in a traditional ceremony for many generations.
These cultures purport that through the skillful use of psychedelics, it is possible to reconnect to a wiser, more ancient and more fulfilling narrative, re-inject a sense of meaning into life and overcome the need to self-medicate.
Inspiration for this can be drawn from the Native American Church (NAC), which uses the natural psychedelic peyote to successfully treat alcoholism among its members by directly targeting the cultural and spiritual disconnection that underlies addiction. By preparing properly for their visionary experiences, NAC members can utilize psychedelic states of consciousness as tools to reframe their life stories and rediscover their place along an ancestral path known as the “Peyote Road.” This generates a renewed sense of identity, purpose and self-worth as people come to see themselves as a vital link in a cosmic chain that binds past, present and future generations, enabling them to overcome the isolation and meaninglessness that previously coloured their life experience.
Mushrooms and Money. Will Psilocybin be the next Big Wellness trend?
Today with the increased acceptance of alternative and more natural approaches to wellness, health, and mental well-being from within the more traditional western health community combined with a massive shift in public perception of more avant-garde approaches to health and wellness will we see an increase in the use of mushrooms in treating both physical and mental health problems?
According to a recent Maclean’s article, yes.
Numinus is a brand-fantasy of the next iteration of wellness: clean, straightforward, empathetic, inclusive and self-aware. It’s one of several Canadian companies—Field Trip Health and Wellness among them—ready to capitalize on psilocybin. Its head office in Vancouver’s Gastown may look like any random vegan café, but instead of cookies, it has ketamine—currently the main psychedelic legally used in therapy in Canada. At some point the company plans to use psilocybin too. Found in “magic mushrooms,” psilocybin is in clinical trials, in Canada and internationally, for use as a potential treatment for mental illness.
The Macleans article takes a great look at the general uptake and acceptance of psilocybin as both a potential cure-all and its potential to become a solid business gamble in the very lucrative health and wellness marketplace.
Our take on it all…
Whatever your thoughts are about Hallucinogens we here in the world of Western medicine need to be prepared for this old/new wave of treatment options to become more readily available to us for use in the treatment of addictions, and Searidge and Sobriety.ca Foundations are committed to remaining abreast of changes and options for helping their patients to overcome their addictions and move forward into a fuller, more productive, and happier life.
If you or someone you care about is suffering under the heavy weight of addiction, reach out and speak to one of our intake counselors today, discover the world of healing that can be accessed with a single call to us.
Reach out, we are here.
Searidge Foundation our Atlantic Canada location in Nova Scotia at 1-888-777-9953
If you are seeking help in Quebec or Ontario reach out to our Godmanchester location at 1-888-999-1968
(cite:NIDA. Making Addiction Treatment More Realistic and Pragmatic: The Perfect Should Not be the Enemy of the Good. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://nida.nih.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2022/01/making-addiction-treatment-more-realistic-pragmatic-perfect-should-not-be-enemy-good. January 4, 2022 Accessed January 23, 2023.)