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This Startup Wants to Use Magic Mushrooms to End Alcoholism

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Photo illustration by Kelly Caminero / The Daily Beast / Getty

Alcohol use disorder – known colloquially as alcoholism – occurs gradually, and then all at once. Most people would say that some drinks in a social setting begin with ballooning into frequent drinks, even in solitude, at home without notice. And eventually it’s forever, becomes a habit just like drinking a cup of coffee. Very quickly, the disorder can become incredibly debilitating as you find yourself living a life of addiction and on call, sacrificing your relationships, career, and cravings for another drink to take the edge off. do good. At least, you’re digging your own grave with each sip.

This is the reality for the approximately 107 million people worldwide who suffer from an alcohol use disorder. While there are many causes of addiction, many cases can be pinned down to some combination of a genetic predisposition to addiction and mental health issues such as trauma or depression. Alcohol can become a means of coping with stress, depression, and anxiety. Think about a time you had a hard time at work and said something like, “I need a drink later.” He week,” or when you got some particularly bad news and opened a bottle of wine to split with friends.

Of course, there are plenty of places to get help. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous have provided aid to millions of people for decades. There are also medications such as naltrexone designed to treat alcohol use disorder. However, even these solutions are not completely effective. According to some estimates, the success rate of AA is extremely low, between 8 and 12 percent. Naltrexone also comes with side effects such as intense nausea and tiredness, and it is not completely effective for many people. Obtaining prescriptions also requires money and resources.

But, there’s an alternative solution popping up in the market that may raise some eyebrows: psychedelic drugs.

Scores of pharmaceutical companies and educational institutions are researching the potential of psychedelics such as MDMA, ketamine, LSD and even DMT, which can be used for years to treat mental health issues such as PTSD and treatment-resistant depression. Is. Even though the social stigma behind the drug remains largely undisturbed, it has been shown to hold great promise as a treatment for some of the most dreaded public health issues in society today.

“We are just scratching the surface,” Brian Pilecki, a psychotherapist and psychedelic-assisted therapy researcher, told The Daily Beast. “Most are just small trials that were highly controlled, but we are seeing that the people who are in these trials are doing well. These treatments are outperforming current treatments as well. [for mental health issues.],

While the idea of ​​treating a drug addict with an illegal substance may sound strange, it has actually been researched and practiced for decades. One such experiment is coming from Vancouver-based biotech company Clairvoyant Therapeutics, which is looking to develop the first commercially available psilocybin treatment for alcoholism.

“It really comes down to what we want to help patients with alcohol use disorder,” Clairvoyant CEO and co-founder Damien Kettlewell told The Daily Beast. “We want to enrich their lives, so we looked at all the different research out there and found a lot of promise with psilocybin.”

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His company is about to begin a phase 2 clinical trial of a new study on the effectiveness of psilocybin in the treatment of alcohol use disorder. This will be a blinded study to be conducted in Canada and the European Union, and will involve 128 patients, with the goal of completing a report in 2023. The test, the clairvoyant hopes, will give a small window into the future for magic. Mushroom-assisted therapy may be warranted for people struggling with alcoholism.

“It’s not something where you take a pill and go home,” Kettlewell said. “It would involve more than 20 hours of psychotherapy.”

Here’s how Kettlewell and his company envisioned psychedelic-assisted therapy for alcoholism: Patients would receive two 25-milligram doses of psilocybin over an eight-week treatment cycle. During this time, each patient will be tasked with recording the number of drinks they drank as well as the number of days they drank in a week via a smartphone app. Dosage will also be combined with regular guided therapy sessions provided by certified mental health specialists.

“Psychological therapy is over 20 hours of time,” Keitelman said. The goal of these sessions is not only to take you on a journey or get through all the flair you see in movies, but to reach something called ego-dissolution—also known as ego death. It is a mental state that can be achieved through psychedelic use where your sense of place, time, and self melt away. Beat author and LSD-evangelist Timothy Leary referred to it as “absolute transcendence—beyond words, beyond spacetime, beyond self”.

It’s a bit tempting, but there’s some really compelling science behind it.

“There is increased communication between different parts of the brain that don’t normally communicate when you take psilocybin,” said Rick Strassmann, a psychedelics researcher at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and author of the upcoming study. psychedelic handbook, told The Daily Beast. “In a way, this corresponds to the subjective experience of tripping. Your ego becomes less rigid and you become more open to things that would normally have been suppressed or withheld.”

Strassman has devoted much of his career to studying the effects of psychedelics on the human brain. This includes laying the groundwork for the latest investigation into how these drugs can reverse addiction: He co-authored a study in 2015 into the effects of psilocybin on patients with alcoholism, where volunteers were given regular therapy sessions as well. Orally administered doses of psilocybin were given. The team from the University of New Mexico found that psilocybin-assisted therapy resulted in a 40 to 60 percent drop in alcohol use and dependence among its participants — especially among those who had “specifically intense trips,” Strassman said. he said. In fact, patients who felt the effects of magic mushrooms more strongly in the first session often had the biggest changes in their drinking habits in the following weeks. Craving also decreased while it resulted in an increase in sobriety.

“Your brain has increased entropy [when you take psilocybin], which means it’s temporarily disorganized,” he explained. “Then it reorganizes based on the effects it has on the mind around you. It can be used to reorganize it profitably.”

‘Magic mushroom’ fights depression better than usual medicine, study shows

Put it another way: Think of your brain as an etch-a-sketch. Right now, there may be some pictures, shapes, and pictures on it that you don’t want—which you can attribute to your bad habits like drinking. Psilocybin shakes up that Etch-a-Sketch by letting you draw something else on it—something new and healthy that can improve your life and mind. That’s where therapy comes in. Psilocybin makes the brain more sensitive to suggestion and more easily influenced by therapy sessions.

Strassman immediately noted that the sample size for the study was quite small, with only 10 volunteers. However, larger-scale research, such as the one Clairvoyant is testing, will build on the findings and may help to verify how magic mushrooms can help people with alcohol use disorders.

As promising as the drug is, however, there are still some good reasons to pause. Unlike most studies looking into psychedelic therapeutics, Clairvoyant did not conduct formal Phase 1 trials. The company omitted that step entirely “in the context of existing safety data because 25 mg of synthetic oral capsules of psilocybin have been applied in clinical trials with more than 300 patients,” Kettlewell explained.

“It’s a little bit unique. Our colleagues in the biotech would be like, ‘How does a company get into Phase II trials?’ But we were able to find the pertinent information and safety information, and we’ve been able to proceed straight ahead in this testing.”

Strassman himself believes that jumping straight into the Phase 2 study “does not seem unreasonable or reckless,” noting that there is a good amount of data from Phase 1 studies of psilocybin in normal volunteers. He added that regulators in Canada are “very strict too”, so they will be able to act as a good check on these companies.

However, Strassmann cautions that, in the interest of attracting capital, new psychedelic drug companies may oversee these treatments. “Excessive promises of panacea are already common in the psychedelic world,” Strassmann said, “but one would expect regulators to keep the governor running.”

Agree with Pilecki’s sentiment. “It doesn’t work for everyone,” Pilecki said. “What is often missed is that it involves therapeutic work, the painful work of facing our past and processing difficult emotions. That’s where psychedelics help. They take the stuff we put down.” Go and put it in front of us. If people aren’t ready for it, it can be overwhelming and scary.”

That doesn’t mean that these drugs don’t hold a great deal of promise for treating not only alcohol use disorder, but other substance addictions as well. Studies have found evidence that psilocybin-assisted therapy can help people struggling with drugs like cocaine, heroin, and even nicotine.

Still, it may seem a bit rushed—and in many ways it is. Ultimately, companies like Clairvoyant aim to bring a product to market as quickly as possible. If they don’t do this, they can lose out to their competitors. It’s this “if you’re not the first, your last” ethos that has embedded itself into the backbone of capitalism, and pharma is certainly no exception. If there’s a way they can get there faster than the competition, they’ll take it. In Clairvoyant’s case, this means skipping phase one testing, while also limiting where they will introduce their final products to three markets: Canada, the UK and the EU.

“We are not focusing on the US because we believe this will rapidly return to normal in the states,” he said.

These drug companies are also finding strange bedfellows among psychedelic advocates and hobbyists who want to see these drugs decriminalized and destroyed. Medical research and studies showing their potential efficacy in fighting harmful issues like depression and alcoholism can only enhance their efforts.

Strassman warned that this could quickly develop into a dangerous health care landscape. “People are treating psychedelics as a sort of Super Prozac,” he said. “Movements like decriminalization are relying on medical research to say they’re safe and effective, but we don’t really know that yet. We’re like putting the cart before the horse.”

It digs into a bigger issue with these biotech companies pursuing psychedelic therapies. While we tend to think of drugs like LSD, mushrooms, and DMT as tools for a deeply spiritual and mind-altering experience, what happens when it gets bogged down by the greenbacks and bottom lines of big pharma? If a drug could, in theory, help the millions of people living with alcohol use disorder, confined to select countries, what does this mean for those who do not live there?

And, in the end, the answer to those problems isn’t just at the bottom of a bottle.

Read more in The Daily Beast.

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