Can Psychedelic Drugs Help Treat OCD?
Today’s BBC News features an article describing Dr. Francisco Moreno’s Heffter- and MAPS-sponsored research at the Univ. of Arizona-Tucson evaluating psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy as treatment for individuals suffering from treatment-resistant Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Dr. Moreno recently published his findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
“Doc, I am ready to play ball.” It had been years since Jeff (not his real name) had touched a basketball.
Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Jeff feared contamination from dirt and germs which prevented any part of his body from touching the ground, save for the soles of his shoes.
But whilst taking part in a small clinical study to investigate the effects of psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound found in ‘magic’ mushrooms, on people with OCD, Jeff’s bare feet lay on the floor and he expressed a willingness to engage in an activity, playing with a ball, that just hours before he would have been considered abhorrent.
Although Jeff’s symptoms gradually returned, other patients also experienced transient relief from their OCD symptoms and one entered an extended period of remission lasting more than six months.
Lead researcher Dr Francis Moreno, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona, Tucson, said: “I really think that participating in the study influenced the patient’s remission.”
It was the first to investigate the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin to be published for more than 30 years.
But critics say the study’s flawed methodology means that conclusions cannot be made about the drug’s efficacy against OCD, and some question whether it should have taken place at all.
Professor Jeremy Schwartz, of the University of California, Los Angeles, said: “This study is going to receive a lot of attention and it will create a desire on behalf of a patient population that is suffering and hoping for a ‘magic bullet’.”
However, the study’s authors say that the primary purpose of the study was to demonstrate safety.
Dr Moreno said: “If the question is: ‘did we find enough information to support exploring this further?’, then we got some interesting findings which support the need for a proper controlled study.”
There are an estimated six million OCD sufferers in the US, making OCD the fourth most commonly diagnosed psychiatric disorder after phobias, depression and alcoholism.
OCD is an anxiety disorder characterised by the repetitive or ritualistic performance of behaviours such as excessive washing, checking, and counting.
Sufferers can be plagued by intrusive thoughts, ranging from unwanted sexual fantasies to committing violent acts.
OCD is treatable although the cause is not fully understood.
SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or the tricyclic antidepressant clomipramine are commonly prescribed and can be highly effective – 60% of patients on medication improve.
The response rate can be higher when combined with cognitive behavioural therapy.
This is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on solving the patient’s present problems, and is recommended as the first line treatment for people with mild OCD.