Mystical Experiences in Psilocybin Trial Appear to Ease Alcohol Use, Cravings

SAN FRANCISCO—Alcohol use and cravings decreased in participants with higher scores on the Mystical Experience Questionnaire in a controlled study assessing psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for alcohol dependence, according to preliminary study results presented during a poster session at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting. “This study is the first to use modern clinical trial design to study the effects of a classic hallucinogen in alcohol-dependent subjects,” wrote poster presenter Kelley Clark O'Donnell, MD, PhD, and coauthors Sarah Mennenga, PhD, and Michael Parks Bogenschutz, MD.

The ongoing, multisite, double-blind study randomly assigns participants with alcohol dependence to receive oral psilocybin or a control, diphenhydramine, during two dosing sessions. In the first, participants receive either psilocybin (25 mg/70 kg) or diphenhydramine (50 mg). In the second, the dose may can be increased based on subjective response in the first dosing session.

The study is designed to include 180 people. Preliminary results shared at the conference were for the first 56 participants—32 men and 24 women—at week 12, after both dosing sessions.

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“Although the blind has not been broken, for this preliminary analysis we divided participants into two groups, high-MEQ (HMEQ) and low-MEQ (LMEQ), based on the median score from the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ) after the first medication session,” researchers explained. The groups showed no difference in percent drinking days or number of drinks per drinking day at baseline, according to the abstract. At week 12, however, the HMEQ group reported fewer percent drinking days, fewer drinks per drinking day, and lower cravings, compared with the LMEQ group.

“These preliminary results suggest that experiences rich in mystical content, such as those seen following administration of psilocybin, can facilitate reductions in drinking and alcohol craving,” the researchers concluded.

—Jolynn Tumolo


“A randomized controlled trial of psilocybin for alcohol dependence: protocol and preliminary data.” Abstract presented at: the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting; May 20, 2019; San Francisco, CA.