Since the rapid rise in opioid addiction and overdose cases in the United States over the past decade to epidemic levels, there has been an urgent need to identify effective treatment options that can help save over 100,000 lives in the US lost to opiate overdoses annually.
A group of researchers recently analyzed data from The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annual nationwide survey that provides national and state-level data on the use of substances and mental health in the United States, and found evidence that psychedelics have a strong potential to combat the opioid crisis. Their most promising finding suggests that psilocybin users are 34 percent less likely to have opioid use disorder (OUD).
Their research was modeled after a previous analysis of the 2017 NSDUH which found that “Experience with psychedelic drugs is associated with decreased risk of opioid abuse and dependence. Conversely, other illicit drug use history is largely associated with increased risk of opioid abuse and dependence. These findings suggest that psychedelics are associated with positive psychological characteristics and are consistent with prior reports suggesting efficacy in treatment of substance use disorders."
The new study analyzed data from 214,505 respondents and found that a history of psilocybin use was linked to a 17-34% reduction in the risk of developing opioid dependency. Furthermore, the researchers found that psilocybin mushrooms were the only substance linked to a lowered risk of OUD while the use of other classic psychedelics (peyote, mescaline, and LSD) had either no correlation or contrbuted to an increased risk of OUD.
The researchers point out that further studies are needed to explore the causal rather than the correlational relationship between psilocybin use and the risk of OUD. With that said, they highlight that "this study offers an important contribution to the research literature by demonstrating the replication of [the] original finding that lifetime use of psychedelics conferred lowered odds of opioid dependence and abuse.” They conclude, “Furthermore, our findings suggest it is worth investigating the protective effects of psilocybin for all related diagnostic criteria for OUD, including overuse and tolerance, opioid-related emotional distress, and opioid-related social and work problems.”
Many research groups are already focused on exploring this relationship with the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at John Hopkins University announcing that upcoming studies will determine the effectiveness of psilocybin as a new therapy for opioid addiction.