Psychedelic Medicine: Innovative Pathways to Recovery from Addictions

Dr. Kenneth Tupper

Date: September 6th 1:30 pm Studio 417


There are many paths to a life of recovery from addiction. One of the more promising of these may be the supervised use of psychedelic drugs or plants. In recent years, scientists have re-opened investigations into how substances such as psilocybin, LSD, peyote and ayahuasca may help in treating and overcoming addictions.

Canadian researchers in the 1950s pioneered the use of psychedelic treatments for alcoholism, but despite early indications of therapeutic efficacy, cultural events in the 1960s led to legal restrictions that ended further clinical research. However, in the 21st century new scientific studies are showing psychedelics may have potential therapeutic benefits for a range of mental illnesses, including substance use disorders. To those familiar with the 12-step approach to recovery, it is notable that beneficial therapeutic results from psychedelic treatments for addictions are often associated with a spiritual or mystical-type experience.

In particular, for patients that have unconscious barriers to recovery (e.g., past trauma), psychedelics may provoke psychological or spiritual experiences that are transformative and unblock the path to recovery. Further, unlike many other medication-assisted treatments for addiction (e.g., methadone, nicotine replacement therapy), the medication is not taken home and used on a daily basis; rather, it is administered only a few times under careful supervision, with preparatory and follow-up integration non-drug therapy.

Therapeutic benefits are typically achieved with just a few sessions over the course of a few months. While findings from the new wave of psychedelic research are preliminary, they suggest that some people who had been unsuccessful with conventional addiction treatments can achieve rapid and enduring recovery (i.e., abstinence) from addiction. This presentation will review some of the past and present research on psychedelic treatments for addiction, outline some of the future directions that research is taking, and discuss implications for recovery-oriented systems of care.


Bogenschutz, M. P., Forcehimes, A. A., Pommy, J. A., Wilcox, C. E., Barbosa, P. C. R., & Strassman, R. J. (2015). Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: A proof-of-concept study. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 29(3), 289-299.

Johnson, M. W., Garcia-Romeu, A., Cosimano, M. P., & Griffiths, R. R. (2014). Pilot study of the 5-HT2AR agonist psilocybin in the treatment of tobacco addiction. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 28(11), 983-992.

Johnson, M. W., Garcia-Romeu, A., & Griffiths, R. R. (2017). Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-facilitated smoking cessation. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 43(1), 55-60.

Thomas, G., Lucas, P., Capler, N. R., Tupper, K. W., & Martin, G. (2013). Ayahuasca-assisted therapy for addiction: Results from a preliminary observational study in Canada. Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 6(1), 30-42.

Tupper, K. W., Wood, E., Yensen, R., & Johnson, M. W. (2015). Psychedelic medicine: A re-emerging therapeutic paradigm. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 187(14), 1054-1059.


Kenneth Tupper, Ph.D. is the Director of Implementation & Partnerships at British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, where he supports the improvement of the provincial addiction treatment system through scientific research, health professional education and clinical care guidance. Prior this current role, between March 2003 and February 2017, Kenneth was Director, Problematic Substance Use Prevention in the Population and Public Health Division of the British Columbia Ministry of Health. In this former role, he assisted in the development, implementation and monitoring of provincial health policy to prevent and respond to problematic drug use and associated harms. Kenneth is also an Adjunct Professor in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, where his research interests include: psychedelic studies; the cross-cultural and historical uses of psychoactive substances; public, professional and school-based drug education; and international and domestic drug policy analysis. Kenneth has published in numerous peer reviewed journals, presented at international health and drug policy conferences, and has been twice appointed to Canadian delegations to high-level United Nations international drug policy meetings.

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