Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy Shows Promising Phase 1 Results In Anorexia Nervosa Trial

A phase 1 clinical trial was conducted to investigate the potential of a single dose of psilocybin combined with psychotherapy as a treatment for anorexia nervosa (AN), a grueling mental illness lacking approved medications. Although the study was small, these initial results show promise for psilocybin as a potential treatment. The findings of the trial were published in Nature Medicine.

Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental health disorder characterized by excessive and irrational fear of gaining weight, leading to severe restrictions on food intake and distorted body image. Individuals with condition often perceive themselves as overweight, even when underweight, and engage in extreme behaviors to control their weight, such as excessive exercise or purging. This eating disorder can lead to malnutrition, severe physical health complications, and emotional distress.

Anorexia nervosa typically affects adolescents and young adults, and it has one of the highest mortality rates among psychiatric illnesses.

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Due to the complexity of AN and its high mortality rate, researchers from UC San Diego and the University of Michigan Medical School conducted this phase 1 clinical trial involving 10 women aged 18 to 40 with anorexia. The study aimed to evaluate the safety, tolerability, and efficacy of a single dose of synthetic psilocybin administered alongside psychological support.

Promising Trial Results

Psilocybin, the primary psychoactive compound in hallucinogenic mushrooms, was used in the clinical trial. The mechanism of psilocybin involves acting on serotonin receptors, which regulate mood and well-being. Individuals with AN have shown impaired brain serotonin function, suggesting that psilocybin treatment may be beneficial for the condition. It is hypothesized that he experience of openness and self-acceptance induced by psilocybin therapy may lead to positive changes in body image and attitudes toward food.

In the trial, participants received a single 25mg dose of psilocybin along with psychotherapy and were assessed for three months. The effects of psilocybin varied among participants; however, 40% of them exhibited a significant decrease in DTS scores after three months, indicating a remission of the eating disorder.

Overall, the participants reported significant experiences with psilocybin, with 90% expressing increased positivity towards life tasks and 70% noting changes in personal identity and overall quality of life. The data suggests that 90% of the participants felt that a single session of psilocybin was insufficient.

Researchers emphasized the urgent need for new treatment strategies for anorexia nervosa, given its association with one of the highest mortality rates among psychiatric conditions. Concerns had been raised about potential adverse effects of psilocybin in individuals with AN due to medical abnormalities such as low body weight and cardiovascular complications. Nonetheless, the results of this trial are promising, prompting the call for larger, well-controlled trials.

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