Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy for Anorexia

by | Sep 14, 2022 | Research

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, anorexia affects approximately 2.8 million people in the United States alone. The vast majority of those affected are women between the ages of 15 and 24.

Sadly, anorexia has the highest rate of suicide than any other psychiatric disorder and there are no approved pharmacological treatments for the condition.

However, psilocybin is showing promise as an effective treatment option, and a phase II clinical trial of psilocybin therapy in anorexia nervosa is already in progress.

Dr. Walter Kaye is a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry Eating Disorders Program and Principal Investigator on the phase II trial.

Dr. Kaye says, “Anorexia nervosa is one of the most difficult to treat conditions we face in psychiatry, with the highest suicide rate of any mental health challenge. Not only can it have a huge impact on the people living with it, but also on the people closest to them. Research and progress are urgently needed; we’ve already seen encouraging data from an exploratory, open-label study in treating anorexia nervosa with… psilocybin therapy, and this phase II study represents another important step forward.”

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia is a serious and potentially life-threatening disorder characterized by self-starvation and an intense fear of gaining weight. Unfortunately, anorexia is also one of the most difficult disorders to treat successfully. Given the high suicide rates and lack of successful treatment options, it’s no wonder that researchers are looking for new and innovative ways to treat the condition.

What is Psilocybin?

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in more than 100 species of mushrooms around the world. In recent years psilocybin and other entheogens have begun to gain traction as a potential treatment for a variety of mental health disorders, including anorexia.

Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy for Anorexia

A growing body of research suggests that psilocybin-assisted therapy may be an effective treatment for anorexia nervosa (AN). A review of research concluded that, 

“New treatment strategies for AN are urgently needed, considering that up to 50% of patients with AN never recover and the risk of death in patients with AN is more than five times higher than in the general population. Converging evidence suggests that psilocybin may be a promising novel treatment for AN.”

Additionally, other studies have found that psilocybin can help reduce anxiety and treatment-resistant depression, which are two common comorbidities of anorexia nervosa. Psychedelics are also being found to help reduce suicidal thoughts.

The Future of Psychedelics for Eating Disorders

More research is needed to determine whether or not psilocybin-assisted therapy is a safe and effective treatment for anorexia nervosa. However, the promising preliminary research warrants further investigation into this potential treatment option.

Doing so could potentially save the lives of those affected by this serious disorder, but it doesn’t stop at psilocybin. Researchers reviewing psilocybin as a pharmacotherapy for treatment-refractory AN stated, 

“Although this paper has predominantly focused on psilocybin and AN, classic psychedelics including LSD, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT and mescaline warrant further exploration for therapeutic use in AN. The therapeutic efficacy of psychedelics in other related eating-disorders including atypical-AN, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder is also worthy of future investigation.”

This suggests that the first phase II clinical trial of psilocybin therapy in anorexia nervosa is only the beginning. More research is sure to surface about the positive effects of combining psychedelic medicines with psychotherapy.