Apr 30, 2024 - News

UW's "magic mushroom" trial advancing

Illustration of a chaise lounge on top of a mushroom.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

A study on the therapeutic value of psychedelic mushrooms for treating addiction and trauma is on track to begin at the University of Washington School of Medicine early next year.

Why it matters: The results of the trial will likely determine whether Washingtonians who qualify for the treatment are able to access therapeutic psychedelics in the near future, said UW addiction psychiatrist Nathan Sackett, who is overseeing the study.

The big picture: Research into the role of psychedelics, including psilocybin, LSD and MDMA in treating a range of addictions and mental health disorders is entering a broader new phase, thanks to more National Institute of Health interest and federal funding.

  • The results so far are "very exciting," said Sackett, who went into research after being frustrated by the limits of treatment he encountered as an addiction physician.

What they're saying: "If I was going to stay in the field, I wanted to find treatments that actually move the needle and work for my patients," Sackett told Axios.

How it works: UW Medicine researchers are looking to enroll about 40 first responders and military veterans with documented PTSD and alcohol use disorder starting this fall.

  • That's important, Sackett said, because most trials have specifically excluded people with co-disorders, a population that may benefit the most from psychedelic therapy.
  • The experiment will be conducted in a controlled environment, and participants will undergo their psychedelic experiences with two therapists present.
  • There will also be psychotherapy sessions before and after.
  • The control group, which in the first round receive a placebo, will then become the experimental group and get the same treatment, per Sackett.

Catch up quick: Psychedelic drugs have become more accessible to Americans through a patchwork of state legislative reforms being steadily introduced each year, according to the NIH.

  • The Food and Drug Administration last year released its first-ever draft guidance outlining considerations for researchers looking into psychedelic treatments for a variety of conditions, including PTSD, depression and anxiety.

Zoom in: Some cities, including Seattle, have decriminalized growing and sharing psilocybin mushrooms while some states — Oregon and Colorado — have passed laws that decriminalized psilocybin and also legalized its supervised therapeutic use.

  • But Washington state legislators elected to first mandate the UW study under a 2023 state law governing the medical and recreational use of psilocybin.

What next: UW has received $250,000 in funding for a separate study analyzing data from a clinic in Mexico that has seen promising results treating opioid addiction with ibogaine, a powerful psychedelic from Africa.


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