Study: Psilocybin Could Be Effective OCD Treatment

Newly published research suggests that psilocybin––the main ingredient in magic mushrooms––could be an effective treatment option for individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The study, published last month in Translational Psychiatry, examined the effects of psilocybin on a group of male mice, with the researchers curious how it would influence the rodents’ propensity for burying marbles.

The researchers explained that the “marble burying test” was “performed in transparent cages containing ~4.5 cm fine sawdust.” 

“Twenty glass marbles were placed equidistant from each other in a 5 × 4 pattern. The experiment was done under dim light in a quiet room to reduce the influence of anxiety on behavior. The mice were left in the cage with the marbles for a 30-min period, after which the test was terminated by removing the mice,” they said. “A marble was considered buried when two-thirds or more of its size was covered with burying substrate, and the number of buried marbles was counted after 30 min.”

“All mice underwent a pretest without any injection, and the number of marbles buried was counted. Only mice that buried at least 15 marbles were selected to perform the test after drug administration. Eighty percent of pretested mice fulfilled this criterion and were used in the definitive experiment, which took place at least a week following the pretest,” they continued.

Immediately following the marble burying test, the researchers carried out the “open field test” in order “to evaluate the effects of the drug treatments on locomotor activity.”

“The apparatus consisted of a square wooden arena (50 × 50 × 40 cm) with white walls and a black floor. Mice were placed individually in the center of the open field and allowed to freely explore the apparatus for 30 min. A camera was used to monitor movement. The total distance traveled (centimeters) was measured by the Ethovision XT-12 Video Tracking System (Noldus Information Technology BV),” they continued.

Ultimately, the researchers observed that the mice that were “administered psilocybin buried 32.84% fewer marbles over 30 min” than mice that were treated differently.

Bernard Lerer, a psychiatry professor at Hebrew University and an author of the study, said that his team is “very interested in the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat psychiatric disorders, particularly in patients who do not respond well to standard medications.” 

“For that reason, we founded the Hadassah BrainLabs Center for Psychedelic Research where we do extensive research on psychedelic drugs. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the conditions in which a high proportion of patients do not respond well to standard treatment – at least a third,” Lerer told PsyPost.

“There is preliminary evidence from studies in patients that psilocybin can help patients with OCD. But psilocybin induces a psychedelic trip and this requires special management. We think that psilocybin could help patients with OCD without the trip. How do we achieve this?” Lerer continued. “We have shown in a different study that the medication, buspirone, which is used to treat anxiety, blocks a mouse equivalent of the psychedelic trip and another researcher has shown that it does so in humans. We wanted to find out whether psilocybin would be effective in a mouse model for anti-obsessional effects – marble burying – and whether it would do so even in the presence of buspirone, which blocks the trip.”

As PsyPost explained, the results of Lerer’s study “showed that mice treated with psilocybin buried significantly fewer marbles compared to the control group,” and that the “reduction in marble burying was similar to the effect observed with escitalopram, indicating that psilocybin may have a similar therapeutic effect as antidepressant medication in the treatment of OCD.”

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