Psychedelics may be able to treat these 11 mental-health conditions


In the 1950s and 1960s, psychedelics showed promise as treatments for conditions like alcoholism, but the criminalization of psilocybin (the psychoactive substance in magic mushrooms) and LSD put research on hold.

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In recent years, calls for formal research to explore whether these substances can treat brain conditions have grown — and researchers are answering the calls.

For 11 brain conditions, the early results are promising.
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In 2016, researchers at Johns Hopkins University tested psilocybin as a treatment for anxiety and depression in people with life-threatening cancers. They gave participants two doses of psilocybin, five weeks apart.



Six months later, about 80 percent of the participants reported fewer symptoms of depression than before the treatment. Some even reported that they no longer feared death.


Researchers at the University of California San Francisco conducted a similar study using psilocybin to treat people with AIDS who had lived through the worst of the AIDS crisis.

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All the participants reported feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and a lack of meaning or purpose, collectively categorized as “demoralization.”

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After one dose of psilocybin and subsequent group therapy sessions, there was a significant and lasting reduction among participants in feelings of demoralization and grief.

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Further studies suggest psilocybin and LSD treatments alleviate symptoms in people with treatment-resistant depression.


In 2020, a study of 24 people with Major Depressive Disorder found that “psilocybin-assisted therapy efficacious in producing large, rapid, and sustained antidepressant effects in patients with major depressive disorder.”


In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, nine people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder were given up to four single doses of psilocybin, each at least one week apart.


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All participants saw some reduction in their OCD symptoms during at least one of the testing sessions, which lasted more than 24 hours.


In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, 15 people who smoked at least 10 cigarettes a day and were unable to quit were given psilocybin three times over 15 weeks.


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Participants also underwent a 4-week period of cognitive-behavioral therapy while still using cigarettes. But six months after both treatments, 80 percent of participants remained abstinent from cigarettes.



David Gard and Josh Woolley, researchers at UCSF’s TrPR Research program, tell Inverse that psychedelics may help these conditions because they help people break patterns.

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“A lot of what psychologists try to do is help people find new ways of coping and how to get out of patterns that might be harming them,” Gard says. “Psychedelics seem to help loosen the way that people think and behave.”

A controlled setting and therapy is important, stresses Woolley. “Psychedelics seem to increase plasticity in the brain,” he says.

“Increasing plasticity increases people’s ability to change... that is very powerful. It can be used for good or bad. There’s a reason cults use these drugs. We’re trying to figure out how to use it effectively and constructively,” Woolley says.



The UCSF team plans to study psychedelics to treat mental health in conditions like Parkinson’s Disease, Bipolar, and even lower back pain. They may even be a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease.

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