4    Bottom of the bottle

As recently as the 1960s, the hallucinogen LSD showed promise in treating alcoholism and heroin addiction. But then the moral panic at the Flower Power generation got psychedelics frogmarched into the shadowy company of a suite of illicit drugs. For four decades, research stopped. But now scientists are back at the drawing board, testing to see if psychedelics can put the brakes on certain addictive spirals.

In this episode, a man in his mid-50s goes down the rabbit hole, in search of the ghosts of his military past, his long-dead father, and the roots of his troubled relationship with the bottle.  

Further reading: 

A great video explaining the roots of addiction

Alcohol causes alcohol dependence, right? Maybe not: a new model for understanding addiction says that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection. Which might explain why experts believe that psychedelics might help overcome the existential pain of being human in a crowded but disconnected world.


Lecture on psilocybin treatment for alcohol dependence

By Dr Michael Bogenschutz from New York University. 



Want to quit smoking?

Psilocybin may be more effective than current treatments, according to early research by a medical team at Johns Hopkins University



Comparison of drug-related harm: 

Figure 2

Drugs ordered by their overall harm scores, showing the separate contributions to the overall scores of harms to users and harm to others

In 2010, UK Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs produced the most robust comparison of drug related harms (published in The Lancet medical journal), ranked in terms of the harm to users, and harm to others. Alcohol is by far the most harmful. Psilocybin mushrooms barely leave the x-axis. 



Triggering a 'god' encounter: 

Listen to the NPR podcast on how to trigger a 'god' encounter by applying a weak magnetic field to your temporal lobe. 


From the literature: 

This is some of the peer-reviewed science coming through in Episode 4. 

  1. Bogenschutz., MP., Forcehimes, AA., Pommy, JA., Wilcox, CE., Barbosa, PCR. & Strassman, RJ. 2015. Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: A proof-of-concept study. Journal of Psychopharmacology. Vol 29 (3): 289-99.
  2. Bogenschutz, MP. & Johnson, MW. 2016. Classic hallucinogens in the treatment of addictions. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry. Vol 64: 250-8. 
  3. Carhart-Harris, RL. & Goodwin, GM. 2017. The Therapeutic Potential of Psychedelic Drugs: Past, Present, and Future. Neuropsychopharmacology. Doi: 10.1038/npp.2017.84.
  4. De Veen, BT., Schellekens, AF., Verheij, MM. & Homberg, JR. 2017. Psilocybin for treating substance use disorders? Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics. Vol 17 (2): 203-212.
  5. Dos Santos, RG., Osório, FL., Crippa, JAS., Riba, J., Zuardi, AW. & Hallak, JEC. 2016. Antidepressive, anxiolytic, and antiaddictive effects of ayahuasca, psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD): a systematic review of clinical trials published in the last 25 years. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology. Vol. 6 (3): 193–213.
  6. Johnson, MW., Garcia-Romeu, A. & Griffiths, RR. 2017. Longterm follow-up of psilocybin-facilitated smoking cessation. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Vol 43 (1): 55-60.
  7. Johnson, MW. & Griffiths, RR. 2017. Potential Therapeutic Effects of Psilocybin. Neurotherapeutics. Vol 14 (3): 734-740. 
  8. Matzopoulos, RG., Bowman, B. & Corrigall, J. 2014.The cost of harmful alcohol use in South Africa. South African Medical Journal. Vol 104 (2):127-132.
  9. Nichols, DE., Johnson, MW. & Nichols, CD. 2017. Psychedelics as Medicines: An Emerging New Paradigm. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. Vol 101 (2): 209-219.
  10. Nutt, DJ., King LA. & Phillips, LD. 2010. Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis. The Lancet. Vol 376 (9752): 1558 - 1565. (Produced for the UK Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs.) 
  11. Thomas, K., Malcolm, B. & Lastra, D. 2017. Psilocybin-Assisted Therapy: A Review of a Novel Treatment for Psychiatric Disorders. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Vol 8: 1-10. 

Some 'grey literature' for local alcohol-related stats that are referenced in this episode: 

  1. World Health Organization. 2014. Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health - 2014. Geneva, World Health Organization. Geneva, World Health Organization. Available: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/112736/1/9789240692763_eng.pdf. 
  2. World Health Organization. 2004. Global Status Report on Alcohol - 2004. Geneva, World Health Organization. Available: http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_status_report_2004_overview.pdf. 
  3. World Health Organization. 2009. Global status report on road safety: time for action. Geneva, World Health Organization. Available: www.who.int/violence_ injury_prevention/road_safety_status/2009. 

  4. Africa Check. 2017. Yes, health data shows that South Africans drink the most in Africa. Available: https://africacheck.org/reports/yes-health-data-shows-that-south-africans-drink-the-most-in-africa/.