Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, could be a potential treatment for anorexia, according to new research.
According to the study, a single dose of the psychedelic, given alongside psychological support, is a safe and acceptable treatment for patients with the disease and may decrease eating disorder-related behavior.
The results come from a small phase one clinical trial published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Experts suggest the findings provide a foundation for future studies to continue evaluating psilocybin therapy as a new treatment avenue.
The study authors said, “The results suggest that psilocybin therapy is safe, tolerable, and acceptable for female anorexia nervosa, which is a promising finding given the physiological hazards and commitment issues in treatment.”
Anorexia is an eating disorder and a serious mental illness. People with anorexia try to keep their weight as low as possible by not eating enough or exercising too much, or both.
This can make them very sick as they begin to starve. Additionally, people with the condition often have a distorted body image, thinking they are fat even when they are underweight.
Both men and women of any age can get anorexia, but it’s more common in young women and usually starts in mid-teens, according to the NHS.
The condition is difficult to treat and there is currently no proven treatment for anorexia in adults to reverse the main symptoms, nor are there any approved medications.
Psilocybin therapy has been shown to be a promising treatment for other mental illnesses and is associated with improvements in anxiety, cognitive flexibility, and self-acceptance.
Stephanie Knatz Peck of the University of California in the United States and her colleagues studied the safety, tolerability and exploratory efficacy of a single 25 mg dose of the experimental psilocybin COMP360.
It is a synthetic form of psilocybin developed by the biotechnology company COMPASS Pathways.
In the study, the substance was administered alongside psychological support to 10 adult women aged 18 to 40 with anorexia. They were evaluated for three months after the single dose, and the researchers report that no serious adverse events were reported.
Self-reported patient responses revealed that 90% viewed psilocybin treatment as meaningful and positive, approving of additional treatments if available.
Additionally, the researchers report that four individuals demonstrated a substantial decrease in eating disorder scores at a three-month follow-up, qualifying for remission of eating disorder psychopathology.
They stress that further research is needed as the results are preliminary, this was a small study without a placebo group and therefore the results should be treated with caution.
“People with anorexia nervosa urgently need new options,” said Dr. Guy Goodwin, chief medical officer at COMPASS Pathways.
“This study shows promising preliminary evidence that COMP360 psilocybin treatment could help people living with this difficult-to-treat disease. We are now looking to expand on these results in our larger Phase 2 study.
Dr Alexandra Pike, senior lecturer in mental health at the University of York, said: “The changes seen in eating disorder symptoms were very subtle and only showed up in a few of the many questionnaires completed by participants – in contrast to clearer findings in disorders such as major depressive disorder.”
She added: “This study is a first step in showing that psilocybin may be a safe treatment for people with anorexia nervosa, but we cannot conclude from this work that it will be effective in this chronic and complex condition.”
Michael Bloomfield, professor of psychiatric neuroscience at University College London, said: ‘The study was not designed to measure whether the experimental treatment was effective and there were no placebo conditions.
“This small study found that the experimental treatment was safe enough to warrant further research studies which should now take place.
“While this is exciting news, we cannot yet say that psilocybin-assisted therapy will be helpful for patients with anorexia. Psilocybin-assisted therapy treatment for anorexia should not take place outside of research trials. Anorexia can be life-threatening.
“People with anorexia and other eating disorders need access to highly specialized multidisciplinary teams led by psychiatrists. No one with anorexia or other eating disorders should attempt to self-medicate with psilocybin.
MORE: Big Brother star Nikki Grahame’s mother wants diet apps banned after daughter dies from battle with anorexia
MORE: Mum who suffered from anorexia transformed her relationship with her body – now she’s helping other women
Get breaking news, wellness stories, analysis and more