Even though it’s still not clear exactly how these drugs work in the brain, researchers think that the psychedelic experience itself could help people change their perspective, and their behavior, when it comes to drug addiction. And these psychologists are keen to try something new, because, as they admit, the current options are limited for addiction treatment.

“For those of us who work in addiction, our existing treatments are not impressive, they’re disappointing, and at a minimum, why not give this a try?” said Peter Hendricks, an addictions psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He’s in the middle of running a double blind clinical trial treating cocaine users with therapy coupled with psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, or a placebo drug.

New view to addiction treatment

“People will often report a changed relationship in observing themselves. I think this is much like what we refer to as mindfulness: someone’s ability to view their own motivations and behavior from a more detached and less judgemental perspective,” said Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychology at Johns-Hopkins University who is testing psilocybin in a trial aimed at nicotine addiction.

“It’s sort of like a crash course in mindfulness; I’m starting to think of it like that,”

Hendricks has a similar take. “Right now we can only speculate,” he said. “But something happens to re-order priorities, whereas before [in the case of addiction] it was drugs, now it could be work or family.”

Whatever it is, it’s looking more and more like this is the road to effective addiction treatment. Much better than the existing alternatives.

“It’s a new paradigm for psychiatry. I mean, normally you swallow a pill, you take a pill, it’s in your system, and it has its effects,” said Johnson. “Once it’s out of your system, the effect is gone.”

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