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Psilocybin for OCD: Exploring a New Treatment Option

August 28, 2023 12:00 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 6 Minutes
Psilocybin for OCD: Exploring a New Treatment Option

New therapy exploration suggest potential in using psilocybin for OCD symptoms. Recent studies have shown that psilocybin may effectively treat patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This discovery adds to the ongoing research on the medical use of psychedelics in psychiatry. And it further reinforces the need to carry out clinical trials to determine the safety and efficiency of using psilocybin to treat OCD.

Preliminary findings have suggested that mental health patients could go through psilocybin-assisted therapy. This treatment is believed to have long-lasting effects that can positively improve the quality of life and mental well-being of such individuals. 

Psilocybin for OCD: OCD and Its Challenges

OCD is a mental disorder in which people have uncontrollable fears or thoughts that make them act compulsively. This debilitating health issue is usually distressing and burdensome. And it can lead to psychosocial, occupational, and interpersonal impairments.

People with OCD sometimes find it difficult to engage in daily tasks like grocery shopping, driving, and human interactions. In some cases, these patients are prone to depression and suicide. Current approaches to treat this condition are helpful but do not always provide full relief.

The Limitation of Existing Treatment Options for OCD

Before recommending psilocybin for OCD, the more prevalent treatments for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder include cognitive behavioral therapy and the use of antidepressants. Although some individuals respond positively to these treatments, a good number of patients do not, hence the need to find alternative therapeutic solutions.

A psychiatry professor at Hebrew University, Bernard Lerer, who is also one of the authors of the study explained this fact. He said, ‘We are very interested in the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat psychiatric disorders, particularly in patients who do not respond well to standard medications. For that reason, we founded the Hadassah BrainLabs Center for Psychedelic Research where we do extensive research on psychedelic drugs. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the conditions in which a high proportion of patients do not respond well to standard treatment – at least a third. ’

Lerer further said ‘There is preliminary evidence from studies in patients that psilocybin can help patients with OCD. But psilocybin induces a psychedelic trip and this requires special management. We think that psilocybin could help patients with OCD without the trip. How do we achieve this?’

“We have shown in a different study that the medication, buspirone, which is used to treat anxiety, blocks a mouse equivalent of the psychedelic trip and another researcher has shown that it does so in humans,” Lerer explained. “We wanted to find out whether psilocybin would be effective in a mouse model for anti-obsessional effects – marble burying – and whether it would do so even in the presence of buspirone, which blocks the trip.”

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Psilocybin for OCD: Understanding the Findings 

The psilocybin for OCD study was conducted on a group of male ICR mice and ‘their paradigms’ to marble burying was monitored. As described by the researchers, the Marble-burying test (MBT) “was performed in transparent cages containing ~4.5 cm fine sawdust.”

‘Twenty glass marbles were placed equidistant from each other in a 5 × 4 pattern. The experiment was done under dim light in a quiet room to reduce the influence of anxiety on behavior. The mice were left in the cage with the marbles for a 30-min period, after which the test was terminated by removing the mice. A marble was considered buried when two-thirds or more of its size was covered with burying substrate, and the number of buried marbles was counted after 30 min. All mice underwent a pretest without any injection, and the number of marbles buried was counted. Only mice that buried at least 15 marbles were selected to perform the test after drug administration. Eighty percent of pretested mice fulfilled this criterion and were used in the definitive experiment, which took place at least a week following the pretest.”

After the MBT, an Open Field Test (OFT) was also performed on the mice to determine the effects of the drug on their locomotive activity. The apparatus used ‘consisted of a square wooden arena (50 × 50 × 40 cm) with white walls and a black floor.’ The mice ‘were placed individually in the center of the open field and allowed to freely explore the apparatus for 30 min. A camera was used to monitor movement.’

The study eventually revealed that ‘mice administered psilocybin buried 32.84% fewer marbles over 30 min’ compared with those not given.

The Potential of Psilocybin 

Also known as magic mushrooms, psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic found in some species of mushrooms. This hallucinogen can alter perception, mood, and cognition. Much more, it has the therapeutic potential to treat mental health issues like anxiety, depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The findings of the study on the mice as explained by Lerer to PsyPost, showed that “mice administered psilocybin with buspirone performed as well on the marble burying test as mice administered psilocybin without buspirone.” Also, the “results were clear even though buspirone prevented the trip. Our findings mean that we could potentially treat patients with OCD with the two drugs together and help their OCD without causing them to have a psychedelic trip. That would be very important clinically.”

The anti-burying effect of the psychedelic lasted for a minimum of seven days. This indicates a potential long-term therapeutic effect. Lerer also added that the study was done on mice and would still need to be conducted on people. However, he said that “buspirone has already been shown to reduce the psychedelic trip in humans so there is already support from human studies.”

Simply put, there is the expectation that ongoing and future clinical trials will further establish therapeutic potential in using psilocybin for OCD. If shown to be safe and effective, this development would be a precursor to the development of new therapies that will best serve individuals dealing with OCD.


Note: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.

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