Classic psychedelics in the treatment of substance use disorder: Potential synergies with twelve-step programs

Int J Drug Policy. 2021 Dec;98:103380. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2021.103380. Epub 2021 Jul 27.


Several pilot studies have provided evidence supporting the potential of classic psychedelics like psilocybin in the treatment of substance use disorders (SUDs). If larger trials confirm efficacy, classic psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy may eventually be integrated into existing addiction treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, and medication-assisted therapies. Many individuals seeking treatment for SUDs also join twelve-step facilitation (TSF) programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which are among the most widely available and accessed treatments for alcohol use disorder worldwide. For such individuals, engaging in classic psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy could be seen as controversial, as members of AA/TSF programs have historically rejected medication-assisted treatments in favor of a pharmacotherapy-free approach. We argue that classic psychedelics and the subjective experiences they elicit may represent a special, more compatible case than conventional medications. In support of this claim, we describe Bill Wilson's (the founder of AA) little known experiences with psychedelics and on this basis, we argue that aspects of classic psychedelic treatments could complement AA/TSF programs. We provide a review of clinical trials evaluating psychedelics in the context of SUDs and discuss their potential large-scale impact should they be ultimately integrated into AA/TSF.

Keywords: Community; Harm reduction; Psychedelics; Twelve step.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism* / drug therapy
  • Hallucinogens* / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Psilocybin / therapeutic use
  • Psychotherapy
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / drug therapy


  • Hallucinogens
  • Psilocybin