In early September, the burgeoning field of psychedelic research got a long-sought-after dose of legitimacy: Johns Hopkins Medicine received $17 million in funding to launch the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. A first-of-its-kind facility for the United States, the center will study the efficacy of psychedelics — namely psilocybin (otherwise known as psychedelic mushrooms) — as a treatment for a range of mental health disorders. While much of the existing research around psychedelics and mental health focuses on the drugs’ ability to treat PTSD, depression, and addiction, the launch of the center brings a new and less-expected line of research: psychedelics as a treatment for anorexia nervosa.
Anorexia, as it’s more commonly known, is a mental illness affecting some 30 million Americans that manifests as an eating disorder, characterized by abnormally low body weight, body image distortion, and a fear of gaining weight. People with the condition often go to extreme measures to control their weight and eating habits, which can be dangerous: Complications from the disease can include heart problems, bone loss, anemia, and even death.
In fact, anorexia nervosa is responsible for more deaths than any other mental illness. This is due, in part, to the physically degrading nature of the illness, but it’s also attributable to the fact that medical professionals have yet to find an effective treatment for the disorder. As of now, the accepted treatment consists of supervised weight gain coupled with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which aims to challenge and change the thinking and behaviors behind the issue. The relapse rate for the treatment is up to 52%, according to a 2017 review.
Given psilocybin’s track record of treating people with other treatment-resistant mental health disorders, researchers at Johns Hopkins are cautiously hopeful that it could be the answer, and the team is in the recruiting phase of a landmark clinical trial to explore the possibility. The study will likely take two to three years to complete, from recruitment to analysis…