Small studies suggest that psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, may reduce the severity of eating disorders and increase people’s motivation to recover from the condition.
Early evidence suggests that psilocybin may assist in treating anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterised by distorted body image and severe food restriction. In a few small trials, people who took the psychedelic drug saw a reduced severity in their eating disorder.
Psilocybin, the psychoactive substance in magic mushrooms, has previously been shown to improve symptoms of depression, anxiety and addiction. These conditions share similarities with anorexia and often co-occur alongside the eating disorder. Several groups are investigating whether the drug can improve anorexia as well.
Stephanie Peck at the University of California, San Diego, and her colleagues gave 10 women with anorexia nervosa a 25-milligram dose of psilocybin, which is enough to produce psychedelic effects. Psychologists guided participants through the psychedelic session and discussed the experience with them the day after and again a week later.
Before and after the trial, each participant completed the Eating Disorder Examination (EDE), a common assessment conducted by a clinician that measures eating disorder severity across multiple domains on a scale of 0 to 6.
The researchers found that, on average, participants’ concerns about weight and body shape improved by 24 per cent and 34 per cent, respectively, from the start of the trial to a month after. They also saw significant reductions in anxiety and preoccupations about food and eating. Additionally, 90 per cent of participants reported feeling more optimistic about their life three months after the treatment, and 70 per cent believed their overall quality of life had improved.
However, the study did not include a control group as it was primarily designed to assess safety. This means it is impossible to know whether the results are due to factors other than psilocybin, such as talking to therapists or the placebo effect.
But the findings align with preliminary data from two other trials presented at a psychedelic conference in Denver, Colorado, on 22 June.
Kate Godfrey at Imperial College London and her colleagues gave 20 women between the ages of 21 and 65 years old three doses of psilocybin over about a month-long period. All the participants had an anorexia diagnosis for at least three years and were working with an eating disorder specialist at the UK National Health Service.
The first psilocybin dose was 1 milligram, small enough to not produce any noticeable changes. This helped participants acclimate to the process and the therapists. The other two doses were 25 milligrams. Like the previous study, therapists guided participants through the psychedelic session and discussed it with them the day after.
The researchers found that, on average, the participants’ total EDE scores fell by almost 30 per cent from before the trial to two weeks after their final psilocybin session. So far, 14 participants have completed a three-month follow-up examination. EDE scores from this time point are, on average, nearly 45 per cent lower than before the trial.
In a separate study, Natalie Gukasyan at Columbia University in New York and her colleagues gave 18 participants with anorexia up to four doses of psilocybin alongside weekly therapy sessions. While the results of this study won’t be available until later this year, she says they did find significant improvements.
“Existing [anorexia] treatments just don’t do the job, at least not for an immense amount of the patient population,” says Yoel Golbert at Sheba Medical Center in Israel. “[These findings] show there is a significant, and I think, robust rationale to continue exploring psychedelic drugs [as treatment for] eating disorders.”
Larger studies are still needed to really understand whether psychedelics treat anorexia – and if so, how to integrate them into eating disorder treatment plans, which usually involve multiple healthcare professionals, including nutritionists, therapists and psychiatrists, says Gukasyan.
Depending on the severity of the illness, some people are admitted to in-patient or residential treatment programmes and it may be more effective to introduce psychedelics towards the end of such programmes. “This is a really complicated illness, and we don’t have a great understanding of what the ideal wraparound care is,” says Gukasyan.
Source : The news scientist