OCD psilocybin treatment

Research shows that psilocybin treatment could bring relief to those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, a condition characterized by obsessive thoughts and habits like washing hands. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD, is a subversive and hard-to-treat condition that in extreme cases can have bizarre, disruptive, and even life-threatening consequences. You may have heard people refer to small idiosyncrasies as “being OCD,” but the real medical condition is quite serious. OCD is a psychiatric disorder in which people have obsessive thoughts and fears that cause them to act compulsively.[1. “Obsessive-compulsive disorder,” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ocd/basics/definition/con-20027827.] While the disorder can consist of obsessive thoughts alone, the compulsive acts of OCD are what most people know, such as repeatedly washing hands or obsessively arranging household items. Many OCD sufferers are subject to high levels of anxiety, recurring grotesque delusions, and suicidal thoughts, making it difficult to live a normal life.

Due to its quirky and often morbid nature, the social stigma associated with OCD can make it difficult for people to be open about their condition and seek proper treatment. Even when treatment is sought out, people may be given powerful antidepressants or antipsychotics that have long lists of adverse side effects as disruptive as the condition itself. However, recent pioneering research is highlighting a powerful new way to manage the symptoms of OCD: the use of psilocybin mushrooms.

A Breakthrough Study

“In a controlled clinical environment, psilocybin was safely used in subjects with OCD and was associated with acute reductions in core OCD symptoms in several subjects.”[2. Abstract for “Safety, tolerability, and efficacy of psilocybin in 9 patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder,” Department of Psychiatry, University of Arizona, November 2006,  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17196053?dopt=AbstractPlus.]

In 2006, the University of Arizona Medical Center published the results of the first clinical trial of psychedelics in over 30 years. Supported by the Heffter Research Institute and headed by Dr. Francisco Moreno, the study looked at the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in nine patients diagnosed with OCD. Patients were given doses of psilocybin on 3-4 different occasions in a controlled environment and then transferred to a psychiatric inpatient unit for overnight monitoring. Ongoing tests measured the patients’ vital signs, OCD symptoms, and level of hallucinatory experience, collecting a holistic set of data that psychologists and scientists could use to determine the mental and physical effects of the psilocybin treatment.

The results of the study were extremely positive. Significant reductions in OCD symptoms were observed in all of the subjects during at least one of the testing sessions, and reduction in symptoms often lingered well beyond the 24-hour period of the psilocybin’s chemical effects in the body. While the study was formulated more to understand the effects of psilocybin than it was psychedelic-assisted therapy, over half of the subjects described their experiences as both mentally and spiritually enriching.[3. “Safety, tolerability, and efficacy of psilocybin in 9 patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder,” Department of Psychiatry, University of Arizona, November 2006, distributed by MAPS, https://www.maps.org/research-archive/w3pb/2006/2006_Moreno_22868_1.pdf.] The study concluded that psilocybin was both safe and effective in reducing OCD symptoms and that future studies are warranted to further explore the effects of regular psilocybin treatment for patients with OCD.

A Promising Alternative

While psychedelic substances like psilocybin mushrooms have a social stigma of being dangerous intoxicants, many of the conventional treatment options for OCD hold their own risk. Some of the most commonly prescribed medications for OCD are selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI) like Prozac and Zoloft and antipsychotic drugs like clomipramine. These drugs have long lists of adverse side effects that include sexual dysfunction, nausea, headaches, confusion, heart arrhythmia, elevated risk for suicide, and dozens more. Considering how dangerous these prescription drugs can be, and the serious nature of OCD, we should focus future attention and research into psilocybin to make this taboo substance’s medical benefits better understood.