BBC News is carrying a curious story about a study on the use of psilocybin (the main active ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’) as a possible treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder, otherwise known as OCD.
Despite how these stories usually appear in the media, this research isn’t particularly unique. A steady trickle of studies on the potential therapeutic effects of psychedelic drugs has been apparent for the last two decades.
Psychedelic anaesthetic ketamine has been used with some success to treat alcoholism, and MDMA (‘Ecstasy’) is being researched as an agent to assist psychotherapy, particularly to treat post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
A long-running research project, headed by (the appropriately named) Prof Deborah Mash from the University of Miami, has looked at the potential of the hallucinogen ibogaine in treating addictions. There’s more at this pdf.
In fact, there was some promising work done in the 1960s on the use of LSD in treating alcoholism before it was stopped due to government worries about the rising drug culture, and we reported previously on contemporary trials of LSD and psilocybin in the treatment of cluster headaches.
So, the fact that someone is researching the potential of psilocybin for treating OCD is not as surprising as it might at first seem.
What did catch my eye, however, was this quote from psychiatrist Dr Paul Blenkiron:
“About 12% of people can suffer flashbacks after less than 10 exposures [to psychedelics] many years later, beyond the six months of this study, so long term effects should be carefully assessed.”
Despite looking, I can’t find any concrete figures on a) the frequency of ‘flashback’ experiences, and b) whether they are a genuine drug-related phenomenon or not (one study suggested they could be induced by suggestion after placebo).
If anyone knows of any good research done on this area, please let me know, as I haven’t found anything so far with some good data on this still-seemingly anecdotal experience.
Also, although the BBC mentions the study, it doesn’t say where it’s going to be published. There’s a link to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry on the page, but there’s nothing on the JCP website or on PubMed yet.
Curiouser and curiouser.
UPDATE: The comments have some fantastic additional information on ‘flashback’ research, including the source of the figures quoted by Dr Blenkiron. Thanks very much everyone!